The last time the Southern Africa region entered a holiday season, there was great economic and social pressure for governments to ease lockdown restrictions.
We paid for it with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period in which new coronavirus infections multiplied exponentially and death stalked the land.
The unavoidable response was to re-impose restrictions on movements and business operations.
When the second wave struck, we had been told months ahead epidemiologists and other health experts that a storm was upon us, with all predictive analyses and algorithms pointing to a spike in infections.
That was in December 2020 and the region was gearing up for the Christmas holidays.
Just four months later, as we enter Easter, the same thing is happening again.
The same issues and behaviours that contributed to the spike of the second wave are apparent all around.
There is a noticeable dropping of the guard in terms of social distancing, unnecessary movement and travel, wearing of masks and hand sanitising/washing. These are all the results of fatigue in adhering to regulations and the human tendency to downplay the seriousness of a crisis when they think that it does not directly threaten them at that particular moment.
On top of this, Southern Africa is moving towards its cold season, which is also the traditional influenza season.
Sociologists and other experts refer to what is happening in our region as the “panic-and-forget cycle”.
Southern Africa panicked when the new coronavirus was confirmed to be present in the region early in 2021.
That panic saw us instituting some of the toughest lockdowns in the world, measures that earned us plaudits from all over for demonstrating our seriousness in confronting the virus.
Then after a couple of months we relaxed. We thought that the pandemic was not as bad as it appeared because there we initially did not see the mass infections and deaths that had been warned about.
Then the surge in infections and deaths came, and we quickly scampered back into lockdowns.
Now, as then there is need to re-instil the sense of urgency around COVID-19 as we move from Easter and into the winter season.
Everyone knows what they have to do, but these are matters that bear emphasising and re-emphasising:
- We must regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, or wash them with soap and water;
- We should maintain at least one metre distance between people in public places;
- We must avoid unnecessary travel and movement as this such behaviour encourages crowding;
- We should avoid touching eyes, noses and mouths;
- We must cover mouths and noses with bent elbows or tissue when coughing or sneezing, dispose of used tissue immediately, and clean hands as recommended;
- We should stay home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, and mild fever.
- We must wear masks in public places;
- We should seek medical attention whenever we suspect we have the symptoms of infection with COVID-19 (meaning we should remain acquainted with what those symptoms are); and
- We must as much as possible keep up to date on the latest information from trusted sources.
Governments and health authorities must enforce public health regulations firmly – and compassionately.
Further, governments must step up vaccine acquisition and administration so that as many people as possible are immunised against COVID-19 before the third wave hits.
Our pandemic intervention efforts should start feeding into the continuum of prevention, preparedness, readiness, responsiveness and recovery.
This means greater investment in the entire chain from research to health delivery. It also means putting more effort into information dissemination so that people appreciate the gravity of the situation that we are facing.
The reality is that while vaccines are a huge weapon in the arsenal against COVID-19, the virus is not going to disappear overnight.
It is going to take a long time – some experts say at least two years – before we reach a stage where the virus is sufficiently understood and controlled for a semblance of normalcy to start returning to our societies.
In the meantime, this means we have to stick to the hygiene basics as advised by health authorities; and for governments, international agencies, the private sector and all other stakeholders to ensure affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
If we do not rediscover the same level of seriousness in fighting COVID-19 that we witnessed when the pandemic started, then we will find ourselves talking of a third, a fourth, a faith wave ad ad nauseam.It will be, as they say in the movies but in this case in a very unfunny way, déjà vu all over again.