By Cynthia Nyam and Chenesai Mukora-Mangoma
Zimbabwe has taken measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 by establishing isolation and testing centres, instituting border closures, encouraging the practice of social distancing, pushing for proper sanitation and hygiene, and enforcing a countrywide lockdown for 21 days.
As the deadline for the lockdown approaches, the question on everybody’s mind is, “what will society look like? What will be our new normal and how prepared are we for it?”
For a country already battling an economic crisis, lifting restrictions may become as urgent as containing COVID-19.
The WHO is developing a strategy for countries considering lifting restrictions, which will require that the following conditions are met:
- Controlled transmissions
- Health systems with capacities to test, detect, isolate, treat and trace every case
- Health facilities and nursing homes with minimised risk of transmission
- Minimised importation risks and finally,
- Citizens that are educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the new situation
How do we measure up?
Keeping in mind that the lockdown must come to an end, let us map these criteria against what we know about Zimbabwe (also applicable to most African countries).
An important element for controlling transmission is testing, and our current performance is subpar. As of April 14, Zimbabwe had conducted 665 tests with 18 positives and 647 negatives. On average, the country is conducting about 28 tests a day and at this rate only 7,000 tests will be conducted by December 2020. For a population of approximately 14 million people, we cannot depend on testing capacity to control transmission. With this in mind, the country however must lift restrictions.
Fixing the deplorable state of the health system will need time, huge financial investments, capacity building and political will. All these are in short supply. Zimbabwe has very little chance of meeting this criteria, but that notwithstanding, restrictions must be lifted.
Minimising importation risks will require diligent checks at all borders, quarantine measures and testing of both citizens and foreigners at all borders. Current capacity does not meet this criterion and is even less likely once neighbouring countries lift their border restriction. Despite this, we will have to lift restrictions.
What is inevitable here is that Zimbabwe will have to lift its restrictions and release the populace from the lockdown, whether it meets WHO conditions or not. Zimbabwe’s best chance at lifting the restrictions and minimising transmission is ensuring that its citizens are educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the new situation. The current lockdown thereby presents an opportunity to ideate on and simulate the new normal before the restrictions are lifted.
Here is what our new normal may look like till we completely eradicate COVID19
Masks will become part of our everyday lives. Adults and children will have to wear them every single day; not just when we are going to the shops or other public spaces, as is the case at the moment, but at work and to drop the kids off at school. The kids will have to wear them in school and at the playgrounds.
We will wear them in restaurants and when we are getting a haircut, or having our nails done. For the foreseeable future, when we walk out of the door, we will need to pick up our masks just as we pick up our purses and wallets and wear them just after we wear our shoes. This is the only way we can safely contain transmission post-shutdown.
Social distancing is here to stay. Showing up to the doctor’s office or hospital will require prior consultation and clearance. Appointments will have to be made to access public offices and certain businesses.
Markets and shopping malls will continue to maintain at least a one metre distance between each customer, and regulate the number of people in the building at any given time. Open-plan offices will need to be reassessed to maintain the required distance and more and more meetings and convening will happen virtually.
Delivery services are going to become very popular.
Constant washing of hands and sanitising after every interaction is about to be second nature. Proof of good hygiene and availability of sanitation facilities is going to be an important determinant of how we engage with people and businesses.
What actions should be taken to prepare for the end of the lockdown?
At individual level, each person, including children, should own at least three reusable, non-surgical masks.
Visitors will need to wash hands or sanitise before entering your homes, and we must disinfect public areas such as toilets and kitchen after use. Phones, purses and wallet will have to be wiped down with sanitiser and particular attention will be paid to car door handles and doorknobs.
As much as possible, keep windows and doors open to allow air circulation. Share accurate information to friends and family to keep them safe.
At national level, multi stakeholder consultations need to happen to develop social distancing and hygiene guidelines for different sectors, to ensure that actions are comprehensive and targeted. Lifting of the lockdown will need to be strategic and sequential to allow for close monitoring of progress and corrective action where necessary.
The need to communicate
The government and other stakeholders need to undertake a nationwide communication drive to educate people on what to expect after the shutdown and the guidelines and measures in place. The shutdown is an opportunity launch the communication campaign through different platforms so that people understand why these measures are in place and begin to acclimatise to the new normal.
Separate guidelines will have to be developed for education facilities, businesses, health facilities, public offices, transportation services among other covering requirements for hygiene and sanitation, social distancing and quarantine.
For example, businesses that engage in external travel (outside the country) will need to take responsibility for the quarantining of their staff on return. Service stations may consider providing services to disinfect public buses and taxis. Law enforcement will need to be deployed to monitor compliance to these measures and advise on corrective measures.
Hand washing stations will need to be installed at strategic points across the country to increase access to hygiene facilities.
The hope is that cross sectoral and multi-stakeholder consultations have already began and the government is tapping into the knowledge, experience and creativity of CSOs, local NGOs, development partners and the creative sector.
Beyond these is the strategic decisions that have to be made and actions that need to be undertaken so that as a nation, we are prepared for the inevitable lifting of restrictions, whether by our own volition, or from external pressures.
Chenesai Mukora-Mangoma is a Creative Economy strategy and development agent, and founder of Chenesai Africa, an organisation that celebrates community trade for development. Cynthia Nyam is a Development Practitioner specialising in strategic planing and evaluation