“Open letter – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

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Dear Dr. Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi

Mr President, my name is Kopo Marvin. I am a Motswana living in the diaspora, I followed your campaign closely last year and endorsed you for the presidency. Unfortunately, I have to write you this letter at this time of crises. I felt the need to as I am closer to the new epicentre of the virus and probably far ahead of Botswana regarding the pandemic. Mr President, Botswana is still far behind but do not be deceived by this; it is important to take action now than regret later. When China closed its borders and locking down their cities, the whole world, especially the west, evacuated their people from China. It is not clear if this is how the virus escaped from China (asymptomatic cases). Still, it is possible since by then we were not as familiar with the virus as we are today. Mr President, as I write to you, Europe is under siege, a war against a Covid-19, Italy being hit the most. The virus is real, and it is still spreading; spreading very fast. If you are slow to move, the virus will not wait for you. You are in the danger of following the same path of what Europeans did, repeating common mistakes and inviting similar calamity. This virus feeds on complacency. For coronavirus, five days can be a lifetime. You have to remember it does not spare politicians or celebrities; we are in this all together. If you do not act, we will hold you and your government accountable, but as for you, Mr President, the consequences may be severe; you may even wish 2024 should be delayed.

Mr President, I am a man of faith. I believe that Jesus Christ died for you and me so that we will spend eternity with Him in heaven. I am in my prayer closet regularly, remembering my family and those that are in the forefront regarding this pandemic. To whom much is given, much will be required. Mr President, we voted you for such a time as this. We do not expect you to come up with answers yourself, but great leaders surround themselves with wisdom and knowledge. You should be surrounded by experts; epidemiologists, scientists, doctors, nurses, statisticians, economists, dikgosi, linguistics, researchers, technologist, and pastors. Mr President if you are not already surrounded by at least five of these, tough days are not far from you. I am merely saying, politicians on their own will not get us to pass through this pandemic, knowledge will, but no one knows everything. If the situation does not change, you will need the following: prayer; crowd influencers; epidemiologists-based decisions; informed health decisions; you will need models to predict how the virus will spread in Botswana; you will need advice on how your choices will affect the economy; you will also need linguists to help you share your messages with Batswana effectively. You need to surround yourself with experts, not politicians.

Mr President, I have a grandmother that I love so much. She has seen me go through the worst in life but always celebrated victories with me. She must survive this pandemic, but I know and understand that the worst can happen if she tests positive. She belongs to the most vulnerable group; her survival does not only depend on the decision made by your administration but also the behaviour of our people. I have been in communication with her lately, trying to educate her about this new virus and how she could stay safe. There are many people like my grandmother out there, some with more serious underlying conditions. Mr President, we need to keep all of them safe. We are a country that is already dealing with another deadly virus, HIV. Mr President, it is not yet clear how this virus will react in a host that is HIV positive. The epicentre or the most hit countries have not yet shared information with regards to this, so it is important that we protect ourselves as it is anecdotally believed that 30% of our population is HIV positive and on Antiretrovirals (ARVs). We have already lost a lot of people to HIV let us not repeat the same mistake again.

Another vulnerable group is of those that do not have enough. Poverty has roamed our streets for so long, different governments and yet some of our people are still living in extreme poverty. Mr President, if the virus hits us like other countries, these marginalised group will be affected the most. Already, we can see how stockpiling has negatively affected them; most of them cannot afford food in bulk because they do not have the resources to. Small businesses are already feeling the heat, and zero contract employees are losing jobs. Mr President, as the curfew goes on, restaurants and hotels will shut down, more people will be out of work. But landlords will still want to be paid.

Mr President, the survival of our people is dependent on the toughness of our measures and our strategy going forward. I appreciate what you have done so far but more can be done. If Italy’s experience shows anything, it is that measures to isolate affected areas and limit the movement of the broader population need to be taken early, it should be clear, then if needed strictly enforced. Mr President, when the time to shut down Gaborone, do not hesitate, do it once and answer later, this virus feeds on complacency. Having said that, Mr President, I am utterly disappointed by the way you and your administration are handling cases. I expected you by now to have come clean. Please stop telling our people that we do not have any coronavirus cases in Botswana without telling us the number of people you have tested. I want to believe that those that are around you they have explained the difference between screening and testing for the virus. We want to know how many people have been tested and where these tests have or are taking place. Mr President, if you have tested ten people, come out and tell us you have tested ten people and all of them are negative. Your decision not to disclose figures is creating confusion and downplaying the threat, thereby creating a false sense of security that will allow the virus to spread easily. This is attested by the behaviour we have seen over the weekend. The public has been de-sensitised by the reports that we are still safe. Your administration is giving our people a wrong sense of hope and safety. I hope you are not hiding the real numbers like other countries, who are now in trouble. I am aware that a lot of countries, including European countries, are refraining from the actual numbers of infection and deaths, some are not even testing. But, Mr President, re Batswana, re boi. Fa o ka re bolelela nnete, re tla tshaba mme ebile re tla itlhokomela go feta jaaka o akanya.

The health and needs of our current health workers should be our priority. We need to make sure that they are ready and have everything they may need. I know our health system is not as good as of the ‘west’, and we rely on our neighbours for complex medical procedures. From what we have learnt so far, it is not about the health system that helps countries do well against this virus. It is about the various strategies in place to reduce infections and the number of those who need intensive care during their treatment. Mr President, we need basic equipment on the ground, we need to ensure that as a country, we have enough protective equipment and food for all those who will be at the forefront. We will need more hospital beds, in fact, for Gaborone and surroundings we should be aiming for at least 500 beds. The seven beds you have reserved in Molepolole are not going to be enough. We need to have protocols in place, especially for tracing those who might be carrying the virus.

Our health care workers will be required to work long hours, and some may never be able to go home and be with their families. You need to ensure their families are well cared for. A worried doctor or nurse is like a wounded horse that is pulling a sledge. What we learnt from China and Italy is that there will be a shortage of health workers, especially doctors. It is unfortunate, but the fact is, we are going to lose some doctors and nurses. We will not forget them and the sacrifice they will give. Mr President, if the situation is too much for our hospitals, we need to recall doctors from our private sector. We will need as many hands as we can. You may have to recall Batswana doctors (previously sponsored) based around the world, especially those that have never served in our country after finishing their studies. Mr President, they will not refuse as they will be coming back to help take care of their own families, relatives, neighbours and friends. It is also important to consider bringing medical doctors who have retired; these veterans are important, especially that they have been there during the previous pandemics, HIV and swine flu. Moreover, if the situation worsens, you should be prepared to call final year medical student and nurses to help combat this disease. Mr President, you should also not be ashamed to seek international help if there is a need, especially from China. The Chinese have seen the worst of this virus, and their knowledge is of utmost importance, in particular, how to stop new infections.

With regards to funds, it is worrisome that you have already spent 22 million Pula to fight the virus, but as a nation, we are yet to see how you have spent that money. If the infection does not hold your administration accountable, we will. You should also consider asking for help from Batswana in the diaspora, particularly those that the government sent abroad to study but never came back home. These donations may be useful for various things; hiring more staff, buying food, training people and buying protective equipment and clothing. For example, you will need to train diphiri; funerals may be a norm. Mr President, you should also discuss measures to help pay those who will be out of work during this time. Some will not earn anything during this time, yet they will still need food and other necessities. An allowance of P2000.00 each month may allow them to cope during the tough times; otherwise, the road to recovery for our people will be harder and cruel.

Mr president, winter is coming. We should pray that we find a solution before the winter season begins. It is challenging to fight viruses during a cold season. You should also remember that we overeat in winter to generate heat. Importing food might be a challenge, especially if this virus strikes south Africa. Our previous governments have taken self-reliance from our people and encouraged us to buy food than produce for ourselves. When I was a young boy, we produced our food, we bought less, but your predecessors and climate has robbed us boipelego. Now we cannot close our borders because our people will starve to death. Mr President, this calls for new measures regarding the food supply in Botswana, we should consider food reserves, stockpiling as a country. We should have reserves that may help us during difficult times like this, particularly when we do not know when this plague will end.

Last but not least, I want you to prioritise tracking and being ready for Patient 0. You have reported no cases for the virus, but I hope you are ready for Patient 0 and Patient 1. In Italy, Patient 0 roamed the streets spreading the virus without knowledge. Patient 1 showed symptoms but was never admitted to a hospital; few hours later, he was in an ICU. In South Korea, Patient 31 spread the virus rapidly but fortunately was tracked and quarantined. Mr President, testing and tracking patients, is your number one priority. If you are not careful, patient 100 will be your patient 1 and go tla nkga go sa bola. Tough measures should be in place for those who will hide and spread the disease.

Mr President, we are in this together, do not be afraid to ask for help when you are overwhelmed or stuck. I pray that we don’t experience anything I have mentioned in this letter but if we do remember Batswana. Our people are a priority. This is your chance. You wanted to be the president; you are now the president. As the people of the Republic of Botswana, we will be looking to you for answers and protection. Pula.

Mr President staying home can save lives. Please stay at home.

Thank you,

Dr. Marvin Kopo”

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