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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Letters: Maintaining state of readiness even during Covid-19 pandemic

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Dear editor,
Even as we try to cope with the pandemic, under the coordinating leadership of our honest, hardworking young Minister, we should always maintain a state of readiness against other threats. It would be wishful thinking to assume that all our problems will go away after all the variants of the quarantine are eventually lifted. The point here is not to be pessimistic but rather to be prepared.

We need to be adequately prepared. Look at the figures critically and see what other countries have been doing, and decide if they have become that proverbial frog being boiled alive, not realising its quagmire until its too late.

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At the start of March, a powerful world leader, United States of America (USA), with a very unfortunate leadership, had only 73 Covid-19 cases; by the end of this week, there will most likely be a million Americans infected (960,651 the other day). Only six Americans died from the disease on March 1, as of the other day, 56,000 died. (We have our 95 persons under quarantine, with only one active case). Let us think about this. The warning has been “we must not be complacent” meaning we MUST be adequately prepared for any eventuality. The USA now is the Sickest Man of the world, given the most infected citizens, which account for a third of the 2,920,954 human beings now afflicted with the virus.
First of all, we should be adequately prepared and brace ourselves for the economic crisis that will happen in the aftermath of COVID-19. Even when quarantines are lifted, the economy may not restart as expected. This health crisis has displaced some significant income earners/workers, likely pushing the unemployment and poverty rate to an unacceptable level.

Once the full economic toll of the pandemic becomes clearer, those unemployment numbers, as bad as they seeem now, are likely to get worse. The global economic slowdown will affect remittances and even the outsourcing sector, which will be compelled to scale back because of the economic fallout in the developed countries, particularly in Europe and in the USA. In the USA alone some 26 million have filed for unemployment in just March/April.

Besides the expected Second Wave/Step 2 pandemic and the economic crisis that may follow, we should also look at seasonal threats , particularly floods and drought. Each of these has the potential to slow down production and increase poverty immensely. As tolerable as the situation is now with the pandemic, we need to reserve resources for climate catastrophes.

Of course there is a long list of failures that have posed and are a still posing danger to the country. Just before the pandemic, for instance, the failure of the agricultural sector has given rise to an extensive rural-urban migration, leaving the old to take care of rural development at one level and, at the other level, making urban management difficult. A situation we have not yet gained adequate handles-on
Thinking about what else may happen is not meant to distract us from the work needed now. Being mindful of them should nudge the authorities to prepare for threats that may happen. Neither the Gambia, nor any other country, for that matter, was actually prepared for a pandemic. This is why the consequences are so grave.
Second Wave
Worse, this health crisis may linger-on for several more months. Some medical research institutes in the USA and elsewhere predicted that the COVID-19 may return in another wave later this year when fall, the start of the flu season, arrives in the northern hemisphere.

Regrettably, a vaccine for COVID-19 may not be ready until 2021. We are all anxious to have one. We should challenge our medical and health research scientists with a handsome reward or an incentive, that could be in the range of GMD15-20,000,000.00 if they develop a vaccine. “Working together they can do this.” Vaccine development follows strict protocols not only to ensure efficacy but also to prevent the proposed remedy from inflicting harm.

For the moment, public health authorities should increase testing for COVID-19 even more and enhance contact-tracing. Given our 2 million population mark, our capacity to test should target few thousands per day. Besides the COVID-19 tests, there should be massive antibody testing. That helps identify who are susceptible. They should be segregated from those who have had COVID-19, including the asymptomatic cases.

Lastly, there should be better contact-tracing, and with that public alerts informing individuals if they had come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. That way people would know if they need to go on self-quarantine or get tested. We need to move faster, especially if the Second Wave of the pandemic becomes a reality.

Bottom line is, we need to be prepared for the worst. For the current episode of the pandemic, our only action was the lockdown. The next time around, we should have more alternatives that would include enhanced testing capabilities and improved tracing. Those alternatives just may be invaluable when we determine how destructive or otherwise the lockdown has been. We should learn our lessons from this episode, just in case.
Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh
Bakau

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