COVID-19 And The Festive Season: Time To Guard Against Complacency

2020 has been a particularly strange year; one that many would quickly want to rub out of their memories. Many lost their loved ones from COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related causes; many were separated from their loved ones for months due to international travel restrictions and national lockdowns, and there are many who lost their jobs as economic recessions took their toll on businesses. Schools and colleges have been closed for months, with some now resorting to virtual teaching; some even lost their opportunity for graduations after many years of sweating for their degrees.

By Grant Murewanhema

We do realise that a new normal is upon us; especially as SARS-CoV-2 infections escalate globally, and a number of fatalities increase weekly. A terrible second wave has been sweeping across many nations at a time when governments across the world are really keen to resuscitate economic activities and as people yearn to return to their usual social lives. We are understandably very social creatures, with a strong natural bias towards working, partying, mixing, mingling, religious gatherings, mass weddings, procreating and other social activities that keep us sane.

Months of being locked down, international travel restrictions and virtual meetings (church, college, work) have taken their toll on many, who were introduced to zoom for the first time. The traditionalists want the traditional classroom or boardroom meeting, and the religious zealots feel drawn away from God because of many months of not gathering. Men are eager to go out and play or watch soccer; many miss a game of chess or snooker over a drink; many miss barbecuing outdoors and those cozy lunch dates that characterise modern life.

After many months of being apart from their families many are really looking forward to returning home to meet their families; there are some who didn’t manage to see their newborns because they were in a different country; and there are some who didn’t manage to pay their last respects to their deceased loved ones and would want to see where their remains lie and lay flowers. Indeed there is so much that many are looking forward to; and in natural times what a better time than December to do these things.

So to put a bit of perspective, about 4 million new infections were reported globally in the past week, with about 73 000 fatalities, with the Americas dominating, whilst there is a slight decrease in new infections across Europe. The African situation remains relatively stable, but South Africa is noting an increase in new infections and hospital admissions. Zimbabwe continues to report new cases and deaths daily, with cases now in excess of 11 000 and just over 300 fatalities. What remains unclear is whether the reported Zimbabwean situation is a true reflection or underreporting as we continue with a heavily strained testing capacity.

All the 10 provinces of the country reported cases over the past 7 days, implying widespread community transmission.

Unfortunately, as described above, life has to go on. We cannot remain locked down forever, and people are looking forward to better and brighter days; and we are all certainly looking forward to spending time with our families over the festive season. We are looking forward to braaing that goat, drinking with friends, Christmas partying at year end at the workplace, and massive crossovers at church. Yes its been a difficult year and we really would want to thank God for that.

The natural temptation is to forget everything about COVID-19 and make this time all about ourselves and our families. It is at such times that people will forget their masks, handwashing or physical distancing. As we come to Zimbabwe from other countries; or as we go to the rural areas from the urban areas, lets remember not everybody is as healthy, youthful or strong as ourselves. We are going to visit our elderly parents and grandparents; we will visit people with diabetes, hypertension or other chronic illnesses, or we will bring the infection even to quite healthy people. It is these that we need to think about as we indulge in our festivities.

Lets go and have fun, but lets remain alert, and lets guard against complacency, to avoid a spike in cases in January. I always emphasize that we have no capacity to handle a large scale outbreak, and currently our temperatures are down and its wet. We risk a serious resurgence in cases.

Lets remind ourselves that as there are effective and safe vaccines that may reach us soon, we need to hang on and remain on the guard for just a little bit longer and we will get there. And lets remember that even after the vaccine, physical distancing and masking will remain with us for some time as well. God bless you.


(About the Writer: Dr Grant Murewanhema as an independent Epidemiologist and Public Health Specialist)

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