Cameroon currently has 820 COVID-19 (Coronavirus) cases (10 April 2020) and ranks as the fifth most affected country in Africa and the most affected country in West and Central Africa.
The soaring number of COVID-19 cases are rapidly approaching the 1000th mark and has spread to six of Cameroon’s ten regions. Hence, the need for urgent actions to eradicate the virus from the national territory is imminent. The government needs to take stringent measures to drastically curb the spread of the virus while containing the current cases.
Sensitizing Cameroonians to understand the magnitude of the threat of the COVID-19 disease seems to be an increasingly hideous and daunting task. In fact, as days go by, it seems to be more of a ‘mission impossible’. As the number of cases rise exponentially from zero to 246 (On 1st April 2020), the rather unconcerned way many Cameroonians in the most affected cities go about their duties normally, as though it was a festive season, is rather worrying.
COVID-19 ravages lives, families and nations. Globally, since its outbreak in mid- November in the city of Wuhan in China, over 900,000 deaths have been recorded (as at 1st April 2020). In Italy, one of the worst affected countries, daily deaths swayed in the neighborhood of 1000 per day in the last few days in March 2020.
World powers felt the merciless pinch of a crisis they least expected will expose the frailties of their robust health systems.
As the health systems of countries like China, Italy, America, United Kingdom were being suffocated by Coronavirus cases, and health facilities overwhelmed, it was evident that African countries, if affected, would suffer more.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the situation may be dire in his continent – Africa.
Recognizing the woeful gaps in the healthcare system in most African countries where doctor to population ratios are low, with doctors earning low wages, and health facilities not well equipped – with some lacking essential basic equipment; it is evident that if the Coronavirus visits Africa or an African country to the magnitude that Italy has faced, the consequences could be extremely devastating not only for the specific country but for the continent as a whole.
Hence, as the first Coronavirus case was diagnosed on African soil on February 14, 2020, in Egypt, several African countries took measures at varying pace to prevent the virus from penetrating their borders. This was not wholly successful.
Due to the perceivably slow measures taken by several African countries, the virus has spread like wildfire, with humans at the heart of its transmission.
Cameroon reported its first case on 6th March 2020. This was a 58-year-old French citizen who arrived in Cameroon on 24th February. Less than two weeks after its first case, Cameroon registered 10 Coronavirus cases, urging the government to take 13 firm measures on the 17th of March in an authoritative effort to curb the exponential increase of the Coronavirus cases in the country.
However, the measures, which seemed to have been taken in a rush, were not holistically effective. Citizens overlooked some while others inflicted rather inhumane effects on other Cameroonians.
On 17th March, while Cameroon lamented over 10 Coronavirus cases, Africa had recorded 457 confirmed cases from 1 confirmed case on 14th February (WHO, 2020). Three days later, on 20th March, Cameroon had 27 confirmed cases while the continent moaned over a staggering 992 confirmed cases (Worldometers.info, 2020). On 28th March, confirmed cases in Cameroon stood at 75 while the continental figures had grown to 3,778 (WHO, 2020).
As the sun sets on this article, on 1st April 2020, 10 new cases were recorded in Cameroon, taking the tally of confirmed cases to an unwanted 246. Sadly, six persons had died of the virus in Cameroon with a limping 10 recoveries that seem to twinkle some rays of hope on the selfless and assiduous health workers who are at the frontline of combatting this deadly virus.
Between 6th March when the first case was diagnosed in the country to 1st April, the energetic and amiable Minister of Public Health, Dr. Manaouda Malachie, has communicated vigorously using both traditional and social media to raise awareness on the impending doom that may befall Cameroonians if care is not taken, and the virus outgrows manageable proportions in the country.
Upon detection of COVID-19 in Cameroon, Dr. Malachie invited Cameroonians to respect hygienic methods as prescribed by the WHO, wear masks to cover mouth and nose, avoid crowded placed stay indoors and be responsible citizens.
However, despite these appeals, coupled with 13 firm instructions by the government and some contextual measures put in place in some regions in the country, it appears a majority of Cameroonians in the hard-hit cities of Yaounde, Douala, and Bafoussam are indifferent to these appeals.
At this stage of the COVID-19 crisis in Cameroon, there is an urgent need for a stronger sense of commitment and seriousness from a top to bottom level. Relying on the moral consciousness of the Cameroonian populace to flatten the COVID-19 curve and significantly reduce and/or eradicate the coronavirus from the country will remain a mirage. Cameroonians are intricately aware of the impending dangers that the Coronavirus poses, but the government is not perceived as trustworthy many citizens do not consider the measures as serious to be respected.
The widely acclaimed social distancing, in reality physical distancing technique to curb the spread of the virus seems to be defeated by cultural habits of Cameroonians. Markets remain overcrowded, bikes still carry more than one passenger, some taxis still carry more than the government prescribed numbers as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19.
As a social media observer puts it,
“When I walk pass the streets, I see everyone going about their biz as if nothing is at stake- people idling about, chatting, drinking, forming groups and chatting, then I begin to worry for them. Please let me get your #thoughts on this…seems people are not conscious of the danger we are in? How do we sensitize communities and effect behaviour change?” (concealed source, April 1, 2020)
With such carefree behaviors exhibited by Cameroonians the government needs to be firm. It needs to take more stringent measures, albeit humane, to support and guide Cameroonians of all walks of life to join hands to eradicate COVID-19 from Cameroon within the next 60 days.
Of the inexhaustible alternatives that can be considered at this juncture, herewith are nine feasible measures that can inform government’s actions in this ambitious, yet achievable journey. Although these may come with very high cost implications on government, businesses and citizens, they will help to ensure that physical distancing is observed to the maximum, hence, guaranteeing the probability of flattening the Coronavirus curve in Cameroon within a defined period of time.
- Impose a lockdown in the most affected towns for 20 days.
- To do this, government should give citizens a three-day prior notice to prepare for the lockdown.
- Government should stock its shops with necessity goods so that people can buy from these. With a looming lockdown, there is a probability that businessmen will increase prices of basic commodities to maximize profits during the three-day panic-buying period. Government-managed retail and wholesale outlets will help to keep market prices under control during this period.
- For the month of lockdown, all utility bills of inhabitants in cities under a total lockdown should be waived and the taxes of these companies (ENEO and CAMWATER) waived as well or the government should pay the bills.
- The government can give 50,000XAF to every household in cities that are affected by the lockdown or carryout a weekly door-to-door food distribution during the complete lockdown. This can be accompanied by contact tracing and or free medical screenings and testing for individuals who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.
- Telecommunications companies should reduce the rates significantly for the month of the lockdown or the government should subsidize communication costs. Already, charges associated with mobile money transactions have been waived for transactions below a certain threshold. This is commendable. It is important to scale up the contributions of these companies to other services, particularly internet data costs, given that several children are home, many of whom may resort to online platforms to continue their studies. Parents will need internet to entertain, inform and edify themselves during the lockdown.
- Test, test and encourage citizens to come for voluntary testing. Use a ‘carrot’ approach to reward all those who report themselves, their loved ones or neighbors for showing COVID-19 symptoms for voluntary testing. And if the test is positive, a handsome reward should be given to the person who reported the case while the patient is treated.
- Create a special treatment center and do not mix patients with Coronavirus with those without. Facilities such as those in well-equipped boarding schools can be used and dormitories quickly adapted to accommodate COVID-19 cases and serve as Coronavirus isolation centers.
- Support the massive production of reusable face masks that can be distributed freely to households and impose their use nationwide until December 2020. The government of Chzech Republic recommends this as an effective technique to minimize the spread of the virus through the #masks4all
These measures should be enforced in conjunction with the 13 prior measures that were taken on 17th March.
The government needs to take rigorous measures that are both firm and humane. These will make citizens to appreciate the severity of COVID-19. Going by the adage that ‘seeing is believing’, firm measures communicated and enforced by the government will leave an impression of commitment and seriousness in efforts to eliminate Coronavirus from the internal borders of the national triangle.
Currently, Cameroonians are dancing to the government’s drumbeat. Many are waiting for the next tweet from the Minister of Public Health that will invite them to be responsible citizens. At this stage, more than two weeks after the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Cameroon of the pandemic in Cameroon, that message is no longer effective. It is time to match actions with words.