Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Take care please, Covid-19 is real is not a hoax or a conspiracy to control the general public. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic is very much real, and for some people, the virus can be deadly. People with whom we said ‘Happy New Year’ just weeks ago are gone like candles in the wind. It is awful – and still, the storm is not abating – and we are still not obeying the orders of wisdom. People die daily of Covid-19, but not all of humanity will die of it.
As it was in the past, so it is now. This year, how many percent of the Gambia’s 2 million people will get the Covid-19 vaccine. Where is our place in this plan? Or do we expect the virus to wait as we pick and choose who and when to vaccinate?
Nineteenth-century American poet and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe, in his ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ sums up this behavior and the sorrow, distress, and grief that follow hosting a masquerade ball (ball masque) during a pandemic: “He had come like a thief in the night. Moreover, one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of the fall…and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all…” The plague experience this author described here almost 200 years ago (May 1842) fits into the stories we read daily since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Fatoumatta: We have often said lousy leadership is a severe deficit in public health governance. Nothing exemplifies this more than the government’s curious lackadaisical policy of not enforcing social mobility restrictions ad social distancing protocols and the International Public Health guidelines for the Covid-19, knowing the implication of the risks to a larger population. Our leaders need to be responsible and circumspect. Everything cannot be politics. They as leaders owe the people-pleasing, responsible and sensible governance. The government and the political actors should be examples, a good ones, and a role model. They appear to have vacated these roles and responsibilities in the face of the crudest form of politics.
Fatoumatta: Stay safe, do not put your trust in the chariots of vaccines. The powerful will take care of themselves as they did in all the pandemics in history. Check the Great Plague of Athens of 430 BC, the Black Death of 1348, The Great Plague of Marseille of 1772, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920, and all the others before them. People of power always seized escape platforms, like these vaccines, and left the poor to meet inevitable deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) is already talking of inequitable access to vaccines. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to the WHO chief, said last week that “50% of high-income countries are deploying vaccines — and zero percent of poor countries are.” It means the rich are buying up everything Covid-19 vaccine and leaving the poor to die if they like. Even if the vaccines come here, how much should we put in the government’s hands-on this matter? It has vaccination plans to save those from these lurking deaths but are we, the vulnerable, and sure we, the poor, will benefit from that plan?
Fatoumatta: The Gambia has recorded 3,893 infections since it was discovered in March of 2020 of such people with Covid-19 experience in The Gambia. According to official information, with 127 deaths, the country has recorded 75 more active cases as of January 13, 2021. There may be hundreds of thousands of undocumented others in homes’ privacy doing self-medication and self-isolation. Meanwhile, isolation centers are getting full; hospitals lack safety gear; nurses, doctors get infected in almost epidemic proportions. Furthermore, the end is not near. According to the health services director, the Gambia has registered two new Covid-19 variant cases discovered in South Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Before detecting the new COvid-19 variant in the Gambia, the Ministry of Health imposed mandatory testing and quarantine for all travelers from “hotspot countries” where the coronavirus strain has been identified.
Fatoumatta: How many will remain when these torrents stop? As of Sunday, January 24, the Coronavirus pandemic had killed 2.13 million people worldwide. The Gambia had an official share of 128 in that figure of the dead. Before anyone says the Gambia’s figure is low, let the person put himself in the position of any of the dead’s families. Imagine mourning orphans who long in vain for the protective airs of parents; husbands waiting beside the Covid-19 corpses of wives; wives nursing gasping memories of husbands as they slip into eternity. How do we walk through the mines of these difficult times of Covid-19 and live after it? We must listen to science and do like those with knowledge tell us: wear a mask, avoid crowds, wash and or sanitize hands, and more importantly, stay generally safe – at home.
Every Gambian amid the Coronavirus pandemic should know and remember the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” Dickens could well have written, not about the extreme, radical opposites of the French Revolution, but about today’s Covid-19 deaths and our stupid refusal to run away from its avoidable, morbid path. We live with the best technologies, which should help us avoid contracting this virus, yet we still did all the wrong things seven centuries ago. Those who went with all the previous plagues resisted the order to distance themselves from crowds and take cover in their homes’ bunkers. Alternatively, they stayed at home and hosted home parties. That is precisely what we are doing, and our best is dying, dropping dead like diseased oranges.
‘How to Survive a Plague’ is a 2012 American film (and book) by David France. It is about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, its ravages, the life-or-death struggles of victims, treatment protocols, and how to live through the experience. It tells the power of hope over helplessness and that humanity, with utter conviction, can burrow its way out of any scourge that defies cure. Again, ‘How to Survive a Pandemic’ is a 2020 book by Michael Gregal, a physician and public health expert and author of ‘How Not to Die.’ The 2020 book documents deadly pathogens, their evolution through history, their pathways, and “what humanity must rectify to reduce the likelihood of even worse catastrophes in the future.”
The books recognize that lousy human behaviors essentially cause plagues and that with good behavior, we can prevent such tragedies. So, if we do what science says is right, we will find out that it is also possible to count blessings and make ‘the best of times’ out of this terrible covid era.
Let us revisit back to the William Shakespearean experience. A literary historian notes that “the greatest plays in the English language were written during a pandemic — and would not have been possible without it.” The 1348 Black Death in Italy inspired Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of 100 novels titled ‘The Decameron.’ History tells us that bubonic plague closed theatres repeatedly during Shakespeare’s career. Theatres were closed, but creativity flourished – through some other safe ways. Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, died in one of the pandemics, and from the tragedy of that experience, he wrote “Hamlet” and his other tragedies. He was able to do so because he took heed and survived the plagues. May we also live to tell the story of this pandemic.
Fatoumatta: In the same parish register where William Shakespeare’s baptism was recorded on April 26, 1564, the Latin words ‘hic incipit pestis’ soon appeared. It means ‘here begins the plague.’ However, after that entry, what followed were recordings of deaths after deaths of parishioners. That was a pandemic that killed millions and wiped out whole families – across the world. One out of every four persons in Shakespeare’s hometown died in that disaster. However, Shakespeare was one of the saved. His parents and siblings lived too. How did they escape it? They obeyed the strict rules- particularly of lockdown, quarantine, social and physical distancing.
Moreover, that experience was not the only mass death the playwright witnessed. He lived his entire life dodging death from one pandemic to another – and flourishing along the way. Whenever pandemic deaths exceeded thirty per week, and the London authorities closed the theatres, Shakespeare obeyed – he innovated with his trade; he did not lead a rebellion against the rules – and then die.
Fatoumatta: Imagine what the world would have lost if he had lived stubborn and died of complications from a stupid plague. What that tells us is that the one who would write the history of this Covid-19 war should first survive it. Furthermore, how do you survive the ravages of war with stiff-necked, suicidal disobedience to simple rules of survival? Victory is not just walking through the valley of death, and it is not retaining one’s head on one’s neck while others lose theirs; it is conquering the war itself and its circumstances.
Fatoumatta: Shockingly, the Gambia government temporarily relaxed on the social barriers, restrictions on social distancing and wearing a face mask, and encouraging social and public gatherings, particularly the political class engaged in political gathering amid the Covid-19 Pandemic threats. It is the reason why it seems quaint to call for learning under trees in the absence of adequate public school classrooms. Those who propose these 1960s solutions to present-day problems in all probability send their kids abroad or private schools. It is much harder to resolve public doctors’ and health workers’ working conditions when the political class and the rich and powerful repudiate international public health guidelines of the Coronavirus have recourse to expensive private hospitals.
Fatoumatta: COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to hit humanity; it may not be the last. Before this experience, pandemics had plagued the world for ages. Depending on the era and the descriptive abilities of those who lived each of the horrible experiences, it was called The Pestilence, the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, the Great Mortality, the Great Plague. Whatever name it was called, the defining character was death served without favor. Those who survived those terrible times were the obedient ones. We are not learning from anything that happened in history and from things that are happening now. Schools are reopening soon without safety provisions for teachers and students. Markets are daily refusing to acknowledge the deaths and the ravaging sickness from Covid-19; nightclubs bubble cities till dawn; social parties paint towns, cities, and even hamlets red. We do not appreciate the scalding waters we are toying with.
The reason public policy falls flat on its face is, many times because those who initiate it do not always live by it. They seldom lead by example. There is a massive disconnect between the government and the opposition political actors and civic society groups’ rhetoric and the government’s expected directive action. A case in point is the social barrier restrictions, social distancing, and wearing face masks as preventative measures against the Covid-19 has not been observed by the leaders. Leading political figures speak out of both sides of the mouth when they encourage public political rallies and other super-spreader events of the virus.