A disease first reported to the rest of the world on the 31st of December last year has brought the whole globe to a standstill in less than three months. The figures and statistics which are flying around are leaving some confused while some choose to be both sceptical and critical of these together with the measures which have been enacted by the various governments of the world to deal with the virus. The most infamous of these is the lockdowns (which as of the time of writing, Zimbabwe is under one). Even some of the countries which had previously held out, citing concerns of violating their citizen’s liberties have caved in as the Coronavirus threatens to make them pay dearly for those liberties. Besides these lockdowns having already demonstrated their effectiveness in some of the countries affected earlier, let us take another look at why we need them.

The people most likely to contract it are also the ones who will spread it the widest

International travellers unwittingly became the vehicle of choice of one of the fastest spreading diseases ever. These people, most of whom are affluent, have proved to be a dismayingly effective transport mechanism as most of them tend not only to visit more places but also interact with far more people than the average Joe, all before they realise they are infected. The same is true for people with jobs that entail a high amount of personal interaction or even those with highly active social lives. These people are not only the most likely to get infected but they also infect higher numbers of people in turn. The restrictions on not only domestic and international but also pedestrian travel that is demanded by lockdowns will go a long way in preventing these people from unknowingly dooming their peers.

A means to (hopefully) contain the virus

The COVID-19 outbreak came at a time when our healthcare system was already buckling under its own weight. This means that our options as a country to control the spread of the virus are already limited. Even as we speak were using higher temperature as a means of flagging those suspected to be infected. Unfortunately, this particular test hopes that for those infected, the infection has progressed far enough along to cause feverish temperatures. Such a screening system ignores those people who are arguably in the most dangerous stage of their infections – those who believe that they are completely healthy. These asymptomatic people (those showing no symptoms of the disease) can only be prevented from infecting everyone else by enforcing these lockdowns. The period length of most of these restrictions is chosen so as to allow the natural stages of the infection to play out up to the point where visible symptoms can actually be reported. Limiting testing to people who are exhibiting suspicious symptoms requires far fewer resources than mass testing. By limiting social interactions the lockdown also makes it possible to track down and subsequently quarantine the people who may have come into contact with the infected patient.

A way to slow it down

The large numbers of deaths being reported from some of the world’s most industrialised nations have spurred the rest of the world into action as the threat became unavoidable. However, rather than proving how inherently dangerous the virus is, this is a demonstration of its ability to overwhelm even the best health systems on the planet. As the number of cases increases far beyond the capacities of a country’s institutions their quality of service delivery quickly deteriorates. Even though the disease has no cure, the death rates can still be reduced by the intervention of health personnel. Unfortunately, as the numbers of infected shoot up, there are less of these people available to help those who can to recover.

All this means is that in addition to the above-stated reasons, these lockdowns can stem down the numbers of infected to those which our medical facilities and personnel can handle without getting overwhelmed. This is important because besides this outbreak there are still people who desperately need these same medical facilities for other conditions. This fact should be kept firmly in mind by those of us who only look at the seemingly low rate of deaths per number of infected and believe that there is no need for worry. The truth is that even the sick who will recover are still a massive national burden; to begin with, these people will be consuming large amounts of limited medication just to manage their symptoms.

A lockdown is the better option for the economy

Some pundits are warning that these lockdowns will have an adverse effect on the world’s economies. The lockdowns are not a problem, but rather a crucial mitigation measure against the much worse impact the virus will have if left unchecked.  This is not just true for national economies but also for companies and homes. While it is true that large swathes of the population will have trouble making ends meet because of the lockdown, the silver lining is that most of the people will keep their health. Without the lockdown (or even when, God forbid, the current one is a failure) incomes will still disappear if breadwinners, company managers, employees and others start falling ill and dying.

Another reminder: stay at home, wash your hands regularly and do your best to adhere to lockdown regulations.