It appears that plagues, historically, surface every other generation and yet we never imagine having to live through one. When news first filtered out of Wuhan that there’s a new respiratory disease, I thought it would be contained like SARS or MERS or the avian flu. Here are lessons that Covid-19 taught me, things which, if I knew before, were reiterated:
- Power will always aim to control the narrative. Before this pandemic took on the almost cute and antiseptic name of Covid-19, it was called the novel Wuhan Corona virus. It was like the Ebola virus and Lassa fever. The Congo, and Nigeria, have shown where they stand on the rungs of power. China clearly understood that it was critical to de-link Wuhan from the virus, a project that is largely successful except for those occasions in which President Donald Trump deliberately calls Covid-19 ‘the Chinese virus.’
- A plague shows what sort of society one lives in. No sooner than Covid-19 gained traction in Asia, Europe and North America, a rash of conspiracy theories spread across the world from various interest groups. As the plague took its grim toll in the global North, these conspiracy theories took on sillier and sillier tones with the death toll from the virus being attributed to the new 5G telephone technology ‘switched on’ ostensibly in Wuhan and Italy. But whereas those conspiracy theories spread side by side deep scientific inquiry in some societies, it was the dominant item in some other societies. I’ve waited in vain till date for proceedings of the Nigerian Academy of Science on the structure of SARS-COV-2. I haven’t had to look very far for conspiracy theories.
- The meek shall inherit the earth. With the reality dawning that no country will be spared a visit from the virus, everyone turned to what could be done to protect or prevent spread. There being no high technology solutions to speak of in the global South, people have resorted to handwashing like never before. Being conscious of microbes and pathogens more than our relatives in the global North, we did wash our hands before the pandemic. We ate with our bare hands. We washed before we ate and after. A look at the world map would show how useful this near religious washing of hands is proving to be.
- Copy and paste solutions can only work for so long. So, Nigeria implementing social distancing and lockdown of cities to contain the spread of the virus. It is working. The official numbers show arithmetical rather than geometric progression. What Nigeria didn’t plan for were hordes of the hungry whose organising power would turn them into terrorists at night in major cities. At some point in time, the leadership in every society has to evolve genuinely thought through solutions. Nigeria’s moment arrived with Covid-19.
- Family is everything. When I read of the death rate in retirement homes from this virus, I think about family. When social media goes mad with hateful posts from children of privilege, I think of family. After this whole dark chapter in human history passes, Nigerians will remember that it was at this time that a mother took a good look at a social media post from an offspring and pronounced that it was fair to threaten another woman with gang rape. Family is everything.