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Thursday, October 1

Africa proof: 5 practical ways Africans can limit spread of coronavirus in public places – Ingenuity and lessons from the continent

It has been the norm to single out Africa in all things of a global nature. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Some of the public health measures that seem to work everywhere else have been questioned if fit for Africa. TIA has been the refrain. But as the following practical measures by which Africans can limit the spread of coronavirus in public reeducate us, sometimes its a matter of language. Most other times a matter of ingenuity and learning from each other.

1. Wear your cloth face mask all times.

Especially in spaces where it is difficult to maintain social distancing such as in a market, matatu/combi/”African taxi”, boda boda, water point, pharmacy, Mama mboga or kiosk.

What NOT to do to slow the spread of coronavirus. Touching your face especially the eyes, nose and mouth. Image by Jurien Huggins (@jurienh) on Unsplash.

How through a simple face mask, Africans can limit the spread of coronavirus in public

About 25% (one in every four) of people who get infected by coronavirus do not present any symptoms or fall ill. These asymptomatic individuals, however can pass on the disease. Moreover presymptomatic spread of coronavirus according to WHO is common. This happens to be spread of the disease in an infected individual before the individual starts to exhibit symptoms. This period, known as the incubation period, is anywhere between 2 days and 14 days.

What does this mean?

It means that a person who doesn’t appear sick, or doesn’t feel sick could potentially infect others. This person (who probably doesn’t know yet that they are sick from COVID-19) could be you or the other guy. It therefore goes without saying that you’d want the other guy to wear a mask just incase he/she is unwell. Now put the shoe on the other foot.

What we are saying is that a face mask protects other people including your loved ones from disease in case you are unwell. A cloth mask isn’t an effective filter for bioaerosols or droplets that are suspended in air. However, they are an effective barrier against you spreading the disease.

Things to consider when making or chosing a cloth face mask

First, if you have a handkerchief, bandana or scarf you can use it as a temporary barrier by tying it across your face. This is also the time to dig up that headscarf that your African mother always insists you should wear to church and make some good use of it. Somebody say Amen! However, ensure that your temporary cover, covers both your nose and mouth.

However, for a more permanent fix, you need a proper cloth mask. If you are anything African, you must be able to handle yourself around a needle and thread. Or at least have an aunt, neighbor or friend who can work fabric. Did I mention that the making of cloth face masks is one way we can make use of a resource that Africa has plenty of? Check out what Bungoma county in Kenya has been up to in the following tweet.

I have seen all types of cloth face coverings that celebrate African ingenuity: old tees, fancy Ankara fabric to refashioned handkerchiefs.

Whichever way you chose to go with cloth face mask, there is a proper way to wear and handle cloth face coverings. For a start, avoid touching the inside of the mask when taking it off. Also avoid habitual putting on and removing the cloth face mask. That said, take time to familiarize yourself with the following CDC recommendations on cloth face coverings:

Cloth face coverings should —

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric (Editor’s note: It is recommended that the mask be made of at least three layers of fabric. The two outer layers should preferably be made of an absorbent material such as cotton. The middle one should be made of a material with absorbent properties.
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Useful resources on face masks

  • Find a face mask pattern that you can download and print to use as a template when making your own mask at home here. CDC also has DIY guides on making cloth face masks including quick cut T-shirt face covering and bandana face covering, both which don’t involve sewing. You can find them here.
  • Read more on what science says about the degree of protection a cloth mask offers and more on transmission of coronavirus here.

2. Stick to social distancing by ensuring you are always two meters away from the next person.

Now this is where stuff bites the dust in Africa. It is this particular measure that places doubts on whether Africans can limit spread of coronavirus in public places. Our ways as a people fueled by genuine warmth for each other. A warmth often expressed in our elaborate greetings and the size of our social gatherings such as weddings and funerals. Many have fingered our communiterian ways as an anathema to physical and social distancing.

stay at home is one of the practical measures by which Africans can limit the spread of coronavirus in public
Stay home save lives. Image by @glencarrie on Unsplash

Then there is the question of our lived environment. I talk of how the largest sections of our cities from Lagos to Nairobi to Cairo to Johannesburg and even Kinsasha are crowded incubators of disease. I talk of how we travel in those cities in boda bodas, matatus and taxis. Where we work in those cities often in factories that must be some definition of a sweat shop somewhere. Then we have to consider where we go to have our lunch at work — the vibandas and kiosks.

I could go on and on. The loudness of the outcry from African inteligenstia on social media when social distancing came up as a way to beat the virus, was loud and clear. What about the people living in informal settlements? What about those who rely on a daily wage? Heck, our hospitals are already crowded — often two or three sharing a bed — from Malaria, HIV and other forgotten diseases. So how was Africa going to go about social distancing?

Physical and Social distancing in Africa

Thankfully, our governments have responded. Thank God again that the solutions have not been generic. From restrictions on movement to restrictions on the number of people in public spaces, how Africa has gone about social distancing has be tailored for country; and within the countries for specific regions. They have not always gone about it in the best ways — case in point the shameful police brutality on show when Kenya embarked on nationwide night curfew — but in ways averse to common notions about our governments we have seen transparency, own up to mistakes and adaptive leadership.

For us guys, it’s a matter of being good citizens, neighbors husbands, wives, sons and daughters. The recommended distance is at least 2 meters from the next person. My grandfather taught me many years ago that one stride is roughly equivalent to a meter. Therefore, if you guesstimate that it will take you less than two steps to get to the next person, you are probably too close. I urge you to apply this rule of hand when queuing for groceries or even at the mobile money kiosk.

It shouldn’t be so hard to stay at home when we can after all, aren’t we the people of ubuntu?


3. Minimize your carry ons and how to handle carry on luggage

Unless you are mama mboga, who needs to carry her daily stock to and from the market, avoid unnecessary luggage as their handling could present an avenue for contamination. For boda boda guys carry either the luggage or the customer.

In jurisdictions such as Kenya, squeezing both the luggage and customer as we have always done it, TIA, could now land you in mandatory quarantine and even jail for breaking the newly gazetted public health measures to limit the spread coronavirus in public spaces.

Our dear ladies, this is the time to drop the extra handbag. More importantly, don`t place your personal luggage on floors or surfaces of public places. So make your carry on luggage light. This for some of us might include dropping our much loved habit of carrying extra shoes in our handbags for a quick change between the streets and the office.

4. Kids at home, shopping and taking care of other daily habits

Leave children at home unless they are sick and need urgent medical attention. I repeat. Children should be home watching TV or reading or helping out with household chores. I say this as some of us have taken closure of schools as a measure to stem the spread of coronavirus in public places an opportunity to bond with kids by running errands together.

On shopping

  • Only one person at a time should run the errands. It’s either the wife, any other adult or you. Make a habit of planning ahead so you can identify who is better placed to do what. If one of you has to go to work or is
  • Buy in bulk when you can, but don’t hoard as you stock up.
  • When shopping don`t go to bargain shopping walking around looking for places with best prices. In advance, select shopping stops where you can get everything at one place. As much as possible, avoid unnecessary trips back and forth and leave the market as soon as possible.
  • When shopping, avoid touching items you are not buying. Ask for assistance from shopping attendants when buying perishable goods like vegetables and fruits.

Other tips

  • For those who will be driving, keep your car windows rolled up always, coronavirus has been seen to be kept suspended in air for up to 8 hrs. Moreover if travelling with a passenger, both of you should have your cloth masks on. Countries like Kenya have gone further steps to limit the spread of coronavirus by capping people travelling in a car at any time to be 50% of the vehicle’s stated load capacity. This means 1 passenger only and the driver for your ubiquitous five passenger family sedan.
  • Make use of mobile transfers and virtual cash transfers when shopping. Cash money is thought to hasten the spread of coronavirus.

5. Frequent hand washing

For a continent often considered ‘dark’ on the basis if such metrics such as basic sanitation, if there is one thing Africa has owned in its fight against coronavirus, it has to be hand washing. Social media is awash with pictures upon pictures of African ingenuity.

Here at 21stcentury.africa, we would like to reiterate one important way Africans can limit spread of coronavirus in public is adoption of good hand washing practice. CDC recommends extra efforts at maintaining good hand washing practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also clean hands:

  • After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc.
  • Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth because that’s how germs enter our bodies.

Fellow African, wash your hands for the recommended with soap and water. Make use of the facilities for hand washing that are now at every bus terminal, shopping mall, market and even kiosk through out Africa. So I ask, are you still in doubt if the ingenuity of Africans can limit spread of coronavirus in public places?


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