What began with a handful of mysterious illness in a vast central China city has traveled the world, jumping from animals to humans and from obscurity to international headlines. First detected on the last day of 2019, the novel coronavirus has infected tens of thousands of people-within China’s borders and beyond them and has killed more than 8,272. It has triggered unprecedented quarantines, stock market upheaval and dangerous conspiracy theories.
Indeed, most cases are mild, but health officials say the virus’s spread through the United States appears inevitable. As the country and its health-care system prepares, much is still unknown about the virus that causes the disease now named COVID-19.
There are many compelling reasons to conclude that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly as is currently feared. But COVID-19 panic has set in nonetheless. You can’t find hand sanitizer in stores and N300 face masks are being sold online for exorbitant prices, never mind that neither is the best way to protect against the virus. The public is behaving as if this epidemic is the next Spanish flu, which is frankly understandable given that initial reports have staked COVID-19 mortality at about two to three per cent, quite similar to the 1918 pandemic that killed tens of millions of people.
This still largely comes down to hygiene and isolation. But in particular, we need to focus on the right people and the right places. Nursing homes, not schools, hospitals not planes; we need to up the hygienic and isolation ante primarily around the subset of people who can’t simply contract SARS-CoV-2 and ride it out the way healthy people should be able to.
Coronavirus in Nigeria, just as in some other African countries, has fortunately not spread the way we feared it would. Indeed, Nigeria is a country which usually takes precautionary motive with levity, otherwise we might not have being recorded more than one case of infection. The country can close the land borders for almost one and half years but could not as well take necessary measure to secure our airports from being infected with the virus.
The good news is that we have huge advantages to leverage on. We already know all of this and have learnt it remarkably quickly. We know how this virus spreads. We know how long people are contagious. We know who the most vulnerable patients are likely to be, and where they are.
Healthy people who are hoarding food, masks, and hand sanitizer may feel like they are doing the right thing. But, all good intentions aside, these actions probably represent misdirected anxieties.
When such efforts are not directly in service of protecting the right people, not only do they miss the point of everything we have learnt so far, they may actually unwittingly be squandering what have suddenly become precious and limited resources.