The worst may not have hit; stay tuned, embrace the new world

Tuesday April 14 2020

Tanzanian performing artist Alex Kalemera

Tanzanian performing artist Alex Kalemera (right), also known as Tanzania Joker, helps a food vendor to wash her hands with chlorinated water as he raises awareness against the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus at Kinondoni Manyanya market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on April 2, 2020. PHOTO | ERICKY BONIPHACE | AFP 

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We have all been sobered by the optics of what has transpired in New York, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and elsewhere with the terrible toll in human lives inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The good news out of Wuhan displaying a jubilant nation emerging from total lockdown emitted rays of hope, but the predominant mood was still one of gloom and dread.

The main problem seems to be that this virus is so novel that the greatest experts versed in virology (and whatever other ology there may be) don’t know how to handle it, and a lot of time is expended on speculation and conjecture.

The various models and projections that have been tried have given the experts little on which they can found scientific certainly as to how it will pan out.

Though it now looks like in some areas the infections and deaths are perhaps plateauing, questions abound. Will it ease its deathly grip when (northern) summer comes, or will it linger around in milder forms until November and then re-emerge with a vengeance? Are those who have been infected and cured fitted with immunity? Why are Black Americans and Hispanics recording disproportionately high levels of morbidity and mortality?

The virus has also spawned its share of heroes and villains. The first responders have been recognised as front line combatants facing up to an invisible enemy.


Officials such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and immunologist Anthony Fauchi have even attained sex-symbol status from the tens of women who have had crushes on them for the way the two have handled the public awareness side of things.

Of course, Donald Trump has been doing what Donald Trump does, blame someone else for his own costly gaffes. Now he has tackled the World Health Organisation chief, blaming the organisation for not doing what it was supposed to have done, but the director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has hit back, telling Trump to do his job as an adult officer-bearer if he does not want to keep counting body bags.

The American president is deeply worried about the numbers on the stock market, but his close advisers are looking at other numbers that the philistine president may not be interested in as he pushes for America to be open “like yesterday”.

No, this virus does not care for our deadlines, and it will not listen to us as we try to guess when it could peter out, and in what state it could leave the world when it leaves the world.

Meanwhile, we are learning to accommodate ourselves to new realities. People are actually washing hands; who never thought of such mundane things. I know of too many occasions when you would ask people to wash their hands and they would ask why they should do such a thing when they have not eaten. Like you washed your hands only after you had soiled them by eating! That’s changed, and not a day too soon.

Then I noticed another phenomenon in Dar es Salaam. Our ‘matatus’, which we call ‘daladalas’, have become civilised. The commuters are actually seated, all of them, giving one the impression of school buses, the conductors signalling the drivers to move every time capacity has been reached.

The optics are of a well-ordered city service with minimum jostling and allowing pickpockets very little room in which to operate.

You might think John Michuki was here, for the late Kenyan Minister for Transport is known for having broken in the Nairobi matatus and made them dance to his disciplinarian tune.

Coronavirus has made ours behave without a Michuki. It is to be hoped that the good practices we learn during a national emergency such as this one will stay with us when the cloud has cleared.

But let me not speak too soon. We have not, as yet, experienced what other parts of the world have gone through. I shudder to think that we are likely to see worse, much worse, in weeks and months to come.

Our vigilance must not wane, our sense of urgency must not be lulled. We may have to go into partial or complete shutdowns, like some other countries have.

The Dar es Salaam happy-go-lucky lifestyle, which has honestly slowed somewhat, could take a few more, and harder knocks in the coming days.

We must brace for the worst while hoping for the best. Stay well, protect yourself and those around you.

Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]