Ideas, Stories, and Profiles

In the early days of the outbreak, when Covid-19 (the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus) was ravaging the city of Wuhan in China — and then northern Italy — it was hard to imagine what its effect would look like here in Rwanda and on the African continent. Some even thought Africa would not be concerned and went on social media to share comparative maps to illustrate, with zeal, the virus’s absence on the continent. Others discussed reasons why Africans would be spared, betting on warmer weather and younger populations.

It is true, influenza-like illnesses do not seem to worry people in Africa, despite the fact that they are suspected to be a cause for many diseases in the Sub-saharan region. A popular advice is to drink some ginger-lemon tea, and that’s it.

In March, Kigali was calm. The city was also busy gearing itself up to host the twenty-sixth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June. But even before the W.H.O. declared a global pandemic, the question of whether the virus would land Kigali was a matter of when, not a question of if. (Kigali’s cosmopolitan policies put it to many advantages as much as they open the country to lots of possible dangers from outside.)

Take epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch, like many other scientists, who had estimated that between forty and seventy percent of the world population would get infected with the virus — although most of the cases, he suggested, would be asymptomatic or present mild symptoms. This has turned out to be a fair prediction and, alas, here we are.

As I write, in the beginning of first week of July, more than three hundred and sixty thousand cases have been confirmed on the continent. And more than ten thousand people have died. In Rwanda, where testing began in early April, infections are nearing a hundred dozens. Among the three recorded deaths, none has been a result of local infection. This is certainly comforting, but it is no basis to conclude the virus is of no serious danger to this part of the world.

As we speak, there are emerging evidence that SARS-COV-2 could be airborne. There are also new developments in neurology that warn of serious brain disorders in people who have experienced mild symptoms of Covid-19. All this is a reminder, dear reader, that we still know little about this virus.

In the next few weeks and months, governments will continue to relax restrictions like they have done in recent days. But it is no time to be complacent and think the virus has been "defeated," not even when we get a vaccine. It will get tougher as the pandemic fatigue and the illusion of a victory rises. (And perhaps the worst may be yet to come.)

Throughout the pandemic, the best advice I have heard — to avoid acquiring the virus — is this: imagine you do have the virus and change your behaviour so that you're not transmitting it.

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