Fear of Covid-19 unknown taking a toll on citizens

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 18:36 |
Mass testing key in war on Corona.

Sandra Ochola 

The public plays an important role in the failure or success of any national initiative.

Its cooperation can bolster well laid plans in the same measure that its skepticism frustrates its leaders.

This is becoming increasingly clear as the country grapples with the complexities of the coronavirus pandemic.

In particular, the fear and stigmatisation that once characterised the disease is slowly being replaced by skepticism and restlessness.

Some local newspapers that hitherto heaped praise on government initiatives are slowly changing their narratives perhaps to reflect the mood of their consumers. 

A recent study by research firm  Infotrak gives a glimpse into this development.

The findings revealed that while citizens are now more aware of the virus, they have also become cognisant of its dangers and ensuing socio-economic challenges.

That a friend or family member can be asymptomatic not only increases anxiety levels, but also presents the reality that the virus has likely affected many of us and is also likely to stay with us much longer. 

The 75 per cent of the respondents that are worried about Covid-19 also speak of how much their livelihoods continue to be affected.

Their personal finances are diminishing even as the government tries its best to keep the economy afloat. Majority are worried that they will not be able to make ends meet if the current situation persists. 

Psychologically, the study indicates that many Kenyans are lonely, stressed, confused and are having a hard time sleeping.

Some 72 per cent follow the news intently for updates on the virus even while feeling trapped and confined by the existing curfew and travel restrictions. 

It is apparent, however, that there is a vacuum. This necessitated not by a lack of communication, but by the existence of the unknown as far as our day-to-day interactions are concerns.

Already, citizens have made varied concessions on their daily routines, including on their social movements and professional interactions. Yet, this unknown is not unique to Kenya.

There are raging debates across the world, as to whether or not we should go back to our normal routines.

Parents are wondering when their children will go back to school as those in the private sector worry about their enterprises.

On the other hand, there is fear of increased infections and deaths if we breach State protocols.

The unfortunate reality though, is that no one has a straight answer to this unknown. Some countries are taking risks with the virus and easing their way back to normality with mixed results.

There are also those that are staying the course of extended curfews and lockdowns while dealing with the ensuing socio-economic and psychological challenges.

Indeed, it is a matter of two extremes that is unlikely to yield win-win solutions within this realm of the unknown. 

Nevertheless, we must attempt to fill that vacuum the best way we can. It is a gap that must be filled with strategies, master plans and clear communication regarding the now and tomorrow. 

It is, therefore, encouraging that majority of citizens believe that the President, the Health ministry and medics are doing a good job during this pandemic.

The existing initiatives have indeed, gone a long way in cushioning many Kenyans as majority hasten to meet their basic needs.  

According to the survey, citizens would like social safety nets widened to include more vulnerable groups. Indeed, 50 per cent would prefer a weekly or monthly stipend to cushion the most vulnerable amongst them.

Another 39 per cent would like increased access to affordable healthcare. This is especially because 70 per cent of those interviewed are worried the country lacks capacity to deal with a large scale pandemic.

Some 32 per cent want the vulnerable to be exempted from paying rent. Also, there is a majority that is willing to bear the storm of the pandemic if they are assured that they will not lose their jobs. 

It is indeed, a long wish list that is justified by our current dilemma. Patience, solidarity and communication will nevertheless, see us through us these tough moments.  —The writer is an Advocate of the High Court

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