The most dangerous phase of the new coronavirus pandemic is upon us. The initial fear of the killer virus has given way to familiarity. Fatigue with preventive measures has triggered reckless longing for pre-pandemic socialisation. The human mind quickly adapts to danger and death.
So, rising numbers of the infected and the dead are not as frightening as they were eight months ago.
We need not mention the unbelievable conduct of millions of Americans who refuse to protect themselves and others from this virus. Of course, they are simply following the lead of their president.
The United States’ figures are sobering. About 11 million people infected so far, one million of them in the last week alone, with nearly 250,000 dead. And counting.
The virus continues to do its thing in Canada, with 296,000 cases so far, and nearly 11,000 dead. Here in Ontario, Canada’s largest province with a population of 15 million, the flattened curve that we celebrated in the summer has been replaced by a fall surge that is expected to accelerate in the coming days.
This past Sunday alone, Ontario registered 1,248 new cases, including 19 deaths. Nearly 800 of those patients were in the Toronto area, the largest city in Canada.
According to the provincial Ministry of Health, Ontario faces a risk of registering as many as 6,500 daily cases by December, a prospect that has prompted the provincial government to re-impose restrictions aimed at minimising human contact.
We are voluntary prisoners in our pads again. A full lockdown may be imposed if people’s behaviour does not change.
Rising numbers have been reported in most of the other nine provinces of Canada. And this is before we get into the December madness when people invade shopping malls on pre-Christmas shopping sprees.
I am not under any illusion that Canadians will suppress their appetite for socialising.
The current surge appears to have been triggered by the family gatherings for Thanksgiving in October. Canadians, whose love for family get togethers is similar to Ugandans’ obsession for Christmas feasts, simply ignored the Public Health Officers’ warnings against such gatherings. The Christmas period will probably see similar risk-taking.
To make matters worse, the common-sense measure of wearing masks continues to be ignored by large numbers of people here. Some don’t bother to do so. Many wear the masks without covering their noses, thus defeating the purpose of the face covering.
Likewise, the earlier efforts to maintain a distance of at least two meters apart have given way to clustering in public parks and on city pavements. It is an unintended death wish all round, with predictable results.
My distress at such behaviour among Canadians pales each time I see images from Uganda. The excitement of presidential political campaigns seems to have removed the natural instinct for self-preservation.
Whereas reckless crowding and non-compliance with masks was the norm long before the political campaigns, things appear to have become worse in recent days.
I was very alarmed by images of some presidential candidates and their teams mixing it up with crowds, completely mask-free, in a shared madness of daring death as though their campaigns were worth dying for.
One would have expected these men to lead by example, and to take extra measures to minimise risk to their supporters and other revellers.
Having made it my business to scrutinise all the published images of the presidential candidates’ rallies and other gatherings, I can state with confidence that President Museveni appears to be the only candidate that is taking the risk of Covid-19 very seriously.
His competitors are carrying on as though they have forgotten the tragic lesson from Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza was killed by Covid-19 only five months ago. Nkurunziza had dared death by declaring that God had banned the coronavirus from Burundi.
The Ugandan police and other armed agents who are terrorising presidential candidate Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi and his supporters are aiding the virus.
The stampede in the face of tear-gas cannisters and bullets creates the perfect opportunities for body contact, complete with sharing of nasal secretions that may harbour the invisible enemy.
The politicians and their tormentors are one in a Dance of Death as they drag the crowds towards a common grave, so to speak.
Of course, Museveni’s personal commitment to prevention of the viral spread is nullified by such police brutality and his government’s failure to sustain its impressive efforts that had marked the fight earlier in the year.
The aborted plans to provide masks to Ugandans, the money-grabbing by politicians, the corrupt deals in the name of fighting the virus, the inadequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and financial compensation to frontline health care workers, and the conversion of the pandemic into a political campaign tool by the ruling party, left many of us disillusioned.
However, the politicians are not alone in this game of Russian roulette. My correspondents in various parts of Uganda tell me a consistent story: people simply do not care about preventive measures.
I am reliably informed that family and other gatherings in Uganda are steadily returning to the old ways. Those with masks do not use them as they should. Self-preservation has yielded to a mood of mass suicide.
A look at Kenyan newspapers yields similar images of reckless overcrowding and shunning of masks. Canada, USA, Uganda and Kenya are just four examples of countries where human behaviour has regressed to create the perfect milieu for the virus to spread and kill with ease.
No doubt taking all precautions against this virus does not guarantee that one will not get it. Short of total isolation on a desert island, one remains at risk as long as one interacts with at least one other human being.
However, the only hope we have at the moment is to rigorously adhere to the oft-repeated measures – physical distancing, thorough handwashing, proper use of masks, maintenance of healthy lifestyles, disinfecting surfaces, self-isolation where indicated and, for health care workers, donning effective PPEs.
Ultimately it is a mindset change that will save us from this dangerous pandemic. Our social lives must change. Our traditions must change. Our attitudes must change. The party is over. At least for now. Or else, the virus wins, for it is not going to let up in its battle for survival.