Coronavirus complacency should be condemned

WITH infections of a novel coronavirus exploding in China—case numbers soared to more than 2700 the past 24 hours—and racing around the world, our state of preparedness needs to be geared up if we are to protect citizens from this disastrous epidemic.

Indeed, Namibia has been home to many Chinese nationals for many years and this, coupled with many travellers coming to Namibia for tourism purposes, aggravates the level at which Namibia is at risk to record its first coronavirus infection.

We are fully aware that Namibia over the years has exhibited massive resilience and preparedness in terms of screening and diagnosing tropical diseases and other highly contagious ailments such as Ebola at point of entries. However, the prevailing woes bedevilling the health sector could expose Namibians to infection if proper screening and control measures are not activated.

At this stage, what is certain is that even though there’s a lot that we don’t know about the novel coronavirus that’s burning its ways through China, there are some critical assumptions we should make about its continued spread.

First, the epidemic in China is likely much broader than official statistics currently suggest. A lot of mild cases probably remain unrecognized. Even a lot of severe cases are unreported since diagnostic tests were only recently deployed to the front lines of China’s healthcare system.

Second, global spread appears inevitable. So too are the emergence of outbreaks in Africa even if a widespread African epidemic can still be averted. When pockets of the outbreak arrive on our shores, we shouldn’t have undue panic. But we need to be ready.

For this reason, we are dismayed by Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula’s recent remarks noting that no active surveillance to identify any potential imported cases was being conducted at national entry points such as the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

Shangula was quoted by a daily newspaper saying that there was no immediate threat that would require the health authorities to implement temperature testing and other screening procedures.

“I don’t know why people are interested in screening at the airport.  This is what people are asking and there is basically no need at the time to screen passengers at the airport. There is no indication at the moment that there is a need to put a screen at the airport,” said the minister.

This lack of urgency and complacency towards a virus of this nature could spell disaster for Namibia if the virus was to enter our country and we implore the minister to reconsider and urgently implement measures defending the safety of all citizens.

We can never be naïve to the fact that the most important public health measures to contain new outbreaks are the early identification and isolation of cases to prevent further spread. With the recorded rate of spread, responsible authorities need to take stern preventive measures and do so now.