The fear of the unknown is looming large all over the world because coronavirus is trending as front page news for the wrong reasons. People are dying every day due to infections from the virus but we are hopeful that scientists who are working round the clock would soon develop a vaccine to tackle COVID-19, the ultimate virus that has caused a global meltdown. It was unthinkable about four months ago that the whole world would stand still and be humbled by a ravaging virus, better described as a particle of genetic material with a covering; it does not even qualify as a living organism like bacteria.
The situation is so dire that patients who do not stand the chance to survive are allowed to die and ventilators given to those with better chances to live. Health workers are overwhelmed – some are even infected with the virus – and medical facilities have been stretched beyond their capacities. It is a strange but true story, and it is unfolding before our eyes, similar to what we watch in the movies; too surreal to be true.
An infectious disease expert with over 50 years’ experience and Director of US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, speaks to a global audience on a daily basis on COVID-19. He told the CNN recently that he cannot understand why the rate of infection is serious even for people without any underlying medical condition. What Fauci is saying is that some people are dying faster than others; the rate of attack by the virus and subsequent death do not fit into any known pattern. You can also be asymptomatic, that is you are infected with the virus and spreading it without knowing you have it. This strain of virus keeps propagating itself and wreaking havoc; the result is uncertainty, fear and anxiety.
Now, experts are saying the virus can also spread through talking and breathing, so where do we turn to? Does it mean social distancing – or physical distancing – is no longer helpful? This probably explains why Fauci is insisting that every American should sit at home. It is also being suggested that everyone should wear face masks once you’re outside your home to contain the spread of the virus – over 300 million Americans, representing about 90% of the entire population, are obeying the stay-at-home order.
Ideally, the United States, the leader of the free world with all its resources, should have been leading the rest of the world from the front in the fight against coronavirus, but, unfortunately, they were caught flatfooted because the government did not pick the warning signs early enough due to political brinkmanship. New York is now the epicentre of the disease and most Americans who are out of work are now depending on food banks to survive. In March alone, the US economy lost 701,000 jobs, and the worst is yet to come, according to a CNN report.
In Nigeria, we are also grappling with the spread of the virus – the number of infected cases keeps going up. Now that the test kits are available, we shall see the true nature of the coronavirus curve in the next few weeks and determine how good or bad the situation is. The present scenario appears to be like the first wave experience, so we should be prepared for a second wave. It is disturbing to know that medical experts, according to a story in Vanguard newspaper, are saying Nigeria risks widespread infection because the Federal Government has failed to upgrade or explore other laboratory testing options across 36 states of the federation, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
The story indicated that Nigeria was treading on dangerous ground because 32 states have no testing centres; we have only six medical laboratory centres that have the capacity to test COVID19 — two in Lagos, one in Abuja, one each in Edo, Ogun and Osun. The World Health Organisation insists that aggressive testing is the surest way to manage the pandemic but this does not appear to be the case because of limited facilities and privileged access.
However, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, has assured Nigerians that the centre is working to scale up to 13 testing centres in places such as Abakaliki, Maiduguri, Kano, Sokoto, Port Harcourt, Jos and Kaduna. By March 26, only 846 Nigerians had been tested for COVID19 because test kits were largely unavailable. By the way, we are learning new things about the virus every day and it presents an opportunity for our healthcare sector that is on life support to be revamped before the ventilator is finally removed.
The unemployment numbers are frightening and the food supply chain is threatened because the global pandemic has impacted businesses across all sectors. How would businesses bounce back and survive even when the storm is over? How are we adjusting emotionally to the new reality of staying at home? At the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC), we set up a COVID19 Information Desk to help our members cope during these difficult times. In one of our posts, we counselled members as follows: “Right now, a lot of people are adjusting to new daily routines. For some, that might mean working from home; for others, it might mean taking care of (or home schooling) their children. If you’re able to provide any resources or services, — even if it’s just a free, downloadable colouring book to help keep kids entertained – consider creating a landing page to help you easily share it with those in your community”.
Is this virus a re-set button for the world to know peace and do away with evil practices? This idea probably belongs to the realm of philosophy but it is open for discussion. As some of my friends are saying, God Almighty, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, is sending us a strong message with the global pandemic to depart from sinful ways but the same God will show His mercy upon us and coronavirus will leave us alone. In a demonstration of His awesome power, Mark 4:35 – 41 explains how Jesus Christ, when He was with His disciples, rebuked the raging wind and calmed the dangerous storm at sea by saying to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind and the waves obeyed Jesus Christ and His disciples were surprised and terrified.
The good news is that nothing lasts forever; we can trust the same God to blow away the coronavirus storm just like previous epidemics so that we can have our lives back but note that the world – as we used to know it — will never be the same again. We pray for God Almighty to spare our lives to tell the story, and at the same time, we remember those who died from the deadly virus. May their souls rest in peace but they did not die in vain – it is an opportunity for mankind to launch a new discovery to make the world a better and safer place. For now, we look forward to each day with great hope even as more deaths are predicted until the curve is completely flattened.
Braimah, a marketing strategist, is based in Lagos