As the world grapples to contain the spread of the coronavirus which has infected 106 125 682 people and killed 2 320 497 in 223 countries as at February 9, 2021, various measures have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus among them social distancing, masking up, lockdown and hand sanitizing.
Lockdown has been adopted by many countries in the world albeit with far reaching economic consequences with most governments worrying mostly about the safety of its people over the economy.
The lockdown levels varied with different countries with some imposing a hard lockdown where only essential service providers would be allowed to work while the rest of the economy was shut down.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) came up with guidelines which would be adopted by countries to curb the spread of the deadly virus but to African countries and in particular Zimbabwe, the most difficult guideline which has proven difficult if not impossible to enforce and or observe has been social distancing.
The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) defines social distancing also called physical distancing as keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household.
To practice social or physical distancing, one must stay at least 2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Social distancing should be practiced in combination with other everyday preventive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact for a prolonged period. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.
The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
Since people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, it is important to stay at least 2 meters away from others when possible, even if you—or they—do not have any symptoms.
Social distancing is especially important for people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
If one is sick with COVID-19, have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, it is important to stay home and away from other people until it is safe to be around others.
COVID-19 can live for hours or days on a surface, depending on factors such as sunlight, humidity, and the type of surface. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Social distancing helps limit opportunities to come in contact with contaminated surfaces and infected people outside the home.
Although the risk of severe illness may be different for everyone, anyone can get and spread COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread and protecting themselves, their family, and their community.
In addition to practicing everyday steps to prevent COVID-19, keeping space between you and others is one of the best tools we have to avoid being exposed to this virus and slowing its spread in communities.
Zimbabwe opened its borders ahead of the festive season last year and the move, though noble, proved to be catastrophic as the nation recorded a surge in positive cases and deaths after the festive season which plunged the country back into another hard lockdown.
The reason behind the surge in positive cases and deaths has been attributed to complacency. Observing social distancing in a highly social community has failed.
The shops where people buy their groceries have failed to adhere to social distancing because there is no space for people to queue at till points.
The situation at banks in the country is a cause of concern as people queue to access cash. Social distancing at these banks is simply not practical. People are yet to comprehend the severity of COVID-19 hence the social distancing problem.
Zimbabwe has only allowed to commuting public to use the state owned enterprise Zupco to ferry people to and from work but little is done on social distancing as people are packed in the busses and commuter omnibuses.
To effectively observe social distancing, which has proved impractical, public transport has to carry half of its carrying capacity on normal days but the Zupco are still carrying to capacity.
Observing social distancing is not something which should be enforced by law enforcement agents, because they are also found wanting, but the public has to be convinced and have a buy in for it to work.
There are people organizing parties even under the hard lockdown and out of ignorance, the party lovers throw caution to the wind and attend in their numbers saying they would deal with the consequences later.
The poorly equipped law enforcement agents have failed to enforce the COVID-19 safety regulations. In Masvingo Urban alone, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Masvingo Central does not have a single car to carry out patrols.
The only car that is being used to enforce curfew and other COVID-19 lockdown regulations is a service starved, worn out and abused Rujeko police station truck.
Schools have remained closed and a dark cloud hangs over the future of school going children. Most schools in the country have been overpopulated and social distancing pupils has proved to be impossible because the infrastructure does not permit for such an arrangement.
Universities have come up with an online examination proposal which would be put into effect if the lockdown is not uplifted.
In Zimuto, there was a case where a family member came from Harare for the festive season. Soon after Christmas last year, the family member began developing COVID-19 like symptoms and decided to self-isolate.
Other relatives from other houses decided to stay at their homes for fear of contracting the virus but those nursing the infected person felt neglected by the social distancing and decided to cut all forms of communication with other relatives who had settled for telephoning to check on the patient.
A few days went by and other relatives were in the dark on the condition of the patient. One relative in his 70s decided to cut the social distancing and went to physically check on the patient.
The patient was recovering and life was about to get back to normal for the family. After a full recovery, the patient decided to go back to Harare. A few days later, the relative who broke the social distancing to go and check on the COVID-19 patient began developing COVID-19 related symptoms.
Due to his age coupled with other underlying conditions, the relative succumbed to COVID-19 a few days later.
The Zimuto story shows that social distancing is alien to the African values of Ubuntu.
All other COVID-19 safety guidelines can relatively be observed but social distancing remains a problem.