Hugh Ellis

No one doubts that the restrictions of public gatherings currently are designed to minimize the spread of a deadly disease and improve public health.

It’s also no secret these rules are being disobeyed.

It’s no secret that mask-wearing, social distancing and so on, even in gatherings of much less than 50 people, is not strictly taking place.

I myself have given classes under super strict social-distancing, mask-wearing, hand-and-desk-and-keyboard-sanitizing conditions, only to see some students freely mingling without masks in the corridors outside.

While I have no knowledge of any police shooting or beating while enforcing Covid-19 restrictions, anecdotal reports of misinterpreting the regulations, arbitrary arrests and rudeness are common. Some would say this is just ‘cops being cops’. But when one hears of a policeman saying, in so many words, ‘we are the law’, it’s not a good sign.

Meanwhile, much of the entertainment industry is on its knees. Despite the Government’s well-intentioned grant scheme for artists. You can’t realistically make a gig pay with 50 attendees for two hours. Unless you’re Beyoncé. So far, I hear, experiments with online shows have not worked out very well. Audiences love an online streaming experience, but they also expect it to be free.

The business of organizing corporate events, once a lucrative sector employing many people, has all but ground to a halt.

So, what is the solution? I would like to respectfully propose one, which would be to create a group of leaders. Something in-between an Inspectorate and a Peace Corps. Since its role would be more public education (even ‘propaganda’ in the best sense of the word) than law enforcement, I might call it a group of ambassadors.

These ambassadors/ inspectors might issue fines where necessary. But their primary role would be to talk. To meet with event organizers before a gig and say ‘x, y, and z, are not in order. This is what has to change before things can go ahead.’ They would implore people to wear masks in social settings and workplaces. When a vaccination campaign starts, they would be in charge of disseminating information and debunking the misinformation currently doing the rounds on social media and word-of-mouth.

They would also be a way to relay information back to Government about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to infection control in the ‘real world’.

And if people still refuse? Or get violent? Call the cops. But, but, from what I know of Namibians, we mostly are prepared to obey rules, if we can only see (and have explained) why the rules are there in the first place.

If these interventions work we can begin to think about expanding numbers of people at venues and time spent there.

How would this be done? By ensuring strict social distancing, mask-wearing, sanitizing, testing, thinking through all that could go wrong in advance, and having a public that is well-educated about infectious diseases.

I could be wrong about this. Who knows? Who hasn’t been wrong when it comes to Covid-19? I once thought Coronavirus would be a mere blip, the kind of damp squib that bird flu and swine flu turned out to be (having said that, for all we know the next variant of influenza could yet be another devastating global pandemic).

Pandemics are unpredictable. But it’s also true that problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that helped create them.

And part of what created the Coivd-19 crisis was a certain way of thinking – one that does not value universal healthcare, has one law for the rich and another for the poor, makes top-down decisions, and relies on law enforcement rather than the power of persuasion to ‘control’ the less-powerful person.

The Coivd-19 Ambassadors could be a way to begin to change that.

Hugh Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com