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LIFE-CHANGING

Covid-19 lockdown a grave mistake

Even with the strictest restrictions in many countries, the disease hasn't been stamped out.

In Summary
  • The contrast between Covid-19 and the draconian measures imposed, and the response to more serious diseases such as HIV, malaria and Ebola, is striking.
  • The price of the measures is too steep for most Kenyans.

The price of the measures is too steep for most Kenyans. The preventable deaths and suppressed cognitive growth arising from malnutrition of children in families that are growing poor by the minute is irreversible damage.

Kenya, like most countries, took the fateful decision to lock down the country due to the Covid-19 outbreak. This severely disrupted the economy and lives as children languished home without learning, sick people shied away from hospitals for fear of infection and quarantine, officials enforced the rules with draconian measures, businesses laid off staff, and many enterprises, small and large, went bust.

All lives matter and a death is one too many. The mortality rate trend shows that an overwhelming majority of those infected recover. In 103 days, about 48 cases on average have been recorded daily, and most of them will not die from Covid-19.

The contrast between Covid-19 and the draconian measures imposed, and the response to more serious diseases such as HIV, malaria and Ebola, is striking. According to United Nations Programme on HIV-Aids, in 2018 Kenya had 1,600,000 people living with HIV, 46,000 new annual cases and 25,000 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 3.5 million new clinical cases of malaria leading to 10,700 deaths every year in Kenya.

I worked for the UN in Sierra Leone from 2011 to 2017, and I was part of the team that supported government and communities to fight Ebola, providing supplies for infection control, lab tests and treatment, facilitating emergency education programmes for children, and giving cash transfers to extremely poor and Ebola-affected people.

The Case Fatality Rate of Covid-19, estimated at well below 10 per cent, cannot be compared with that of Ebola in West Africa, which had 16,444 confirmed cases and killed 11,310 people, a mean CFR of 63 per cent computed by the US National Institutes of Health.

Throughout the Ebola epidemic, except for a three-day lockdown to break the chain of transmission, businesses stayed open with hygiene measures implemented and movement continued with temperature checks and monitoring to enable contact tracing. Many international flights maintained services for passengers and cargo, enabling movement of medical supplies, personnel, as well as business people. The recovery from Ebola was fairly swift due to these circumspect and benign measures.

The many people who have lost incomes will not see a shilling in wages any time soon as businesses collapse, and will probably live the remainder of their days in penury, foregoing quality healthcare and their dreams.

The Covid-19 lockdown is clearly an overreaction and one has to wonder how the whole world could get it so wrong, completely ignoring past experiences in dealing with HIV, malaria and Ebola.

Tanzania and Sweden reacted differently, and are learning to live with Covid-19. They will be vindicated as their economies will be more resilient in recovery. The proof that locking down nations is a mistake lies in the fact that, even with the strictest Covid-19 restrictions imposed in China, South Africa, India and other countries, the disease has not been stamped out months later.

Covid-19 is likely to persist like the flu and common cold, so humans will adapt and develop a level of resilience to the illness. There are also positive developments in vaccine research that will help the world deal with Covid-19 in future. It is clearly time to open up Kenya and the world so people can rebuild their businesses, children can learn, and life can go on.

All of us should adhere to reasonable protocols issued by authorities to minimise the risk of infection. However, shutting down businesses that provide jobs and incomes for millions of Kenyans who have no social safety net, and keeping children out of school for so long is a grave policy mistake.

 

The price of the measures is too steep for most Kenyans. The preventable deaths and suppressed cognitive growth arising from malnutrition of children in families that are growing poor by the minute is irreversible damage. The many people who have lost incomes will not see a shilling in wages any time soon as businesses collapse, and will probably live the remainder of their days in penury, foregoing quality healthcare and their dreams.

The children who have been home with little access to education will have no means of making up for lost time. The girls getting married off or sexually abused due to increasing poverty and perversion in society are losing their dignity as the Covid-19 measures smother their dreams and consign them to a life of hopelessness. The price of the Covid-19 measures is too high for all and it is time to ease them and learn to live with this disease.

Adviser, Permanent Delegation of the Commonwealth to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. The views expressed are his own @tonysisule