Hugh Ellis

Recent revelations in the fight against Covid-19 – that some truck drivers allegedly broke quarantine to visit their families, transact at banks, or sleep over with their girlfriends, not to mention the sailor who spent days on shore after his Coronavirus infection was not diagnosed – are saddening but not surprising.

The government has done a great job in keeping our borders closed and people with suspected Covid-19 infections in quarantine. But there will always be loopholes.

I’m no epidemiologist or doctor (well, no doctor of medicine, anyway), and my only public health experience was brief stint as Avian Flu communication point-man at UNICEF Namibia. But some things are clear to any informed citizen.

One of those is that government should be using the time we gained through the lockdown restrictions to invest massively in our public health system. So that it can cope with the (hopefully few, but inevitably some) Namibians who will get infected.
We should be investing now in the systems that will deliver a vaccine if (and it’s an extremely big if) scientists can manufacture one.

Ordinary Namibians, especially those like myself who are privileged enough to have kept our jobs on full salaries, should use this time to think how we can contribute to the public health effort, in cash, in kind, or with our labor.

We should all have begun thinking about how multiple diseases affect Namibians, asking ourselves the hard questions about how we more-or-less ignored hepatitis, malaria, malnutrition, and so many other ailments that, unlike Covid-19, affect the far-away poor more than the influential rich.

Hopefully we white Namibians should have noticed during lockdown that maintaining ourselves as a separate fiefdom is unworkable. That what affects the black truck driver may also lay low the white transport magnate. I wish these economic realities were not the case, but there’s no point in denying them, and perhaps the present crisis gives us a chance to rectify the situation.

I hope government also takes the time to note the mostly excellent role the Namibian media has played in accurately reporting the pandemic, debunking the ridiculous conspiracy theories on the Internet. Transformation of the media industry, like all industries, is needed. However, it is to be hoped that government is using this time to work with the media on communication strategies, setting aside the old and tired political mantra of the mass media as the enemy.

Military scenario planners during the Cold War between the US and the USSR reportedly had a saying: ‘one bomber will always get through’. In the context of nuclear-armed nations, that one bomber or missile that got through your air defenses would mean the destruction of multiple cities and the deaths of millions. Recognition that ‘one will always get through’ sobered up many such planners, and led them to advise their governments to sue for peace.

Recognition that ‘one will always get through’ in the viral world should lead us to not sit around, just because of the government’s good work on maintaining restrictions and current mercifully low infection rate.

Reasonable restrictions can reduce the chance of infection. But the fact is, someone, somewhere – whether a horny trucker, a politician who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, a suburban shopper without a mask, an old sailor whose doctor tells him his pains are simply rheumatism – will slip through the cracks. And we had better be prepared when that happens.

Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com