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‘Corona-drive-us’… wanted creative communication of hope

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THERE is a kiosk in my neighborhood where I often buy telephone recharge cards. The man who owns it is an interesting person given his perculiar height, wit and agility.

He also has a gift for attracting people who sometimes stay hours in the vicinity of his small cubicle which appears to have every little thing everybody needs in the neighbourhood.

His kiosk is so busy that there is no need wondering how his mother, his wife and his entire family finds ample space and chores to execute therein. The family also has some corners in the small shop where it hoists a radio set, a television box and test facilities for telecommunications reception.

The kiosk and its vicinity is functionally a ‘home’, and the family of the man whom I call, Customer is ‘cool’ with it. Moreover, the business is not doing badly, at all.

  Penultimate night, I stopped over to purchase call cards and happened into a discussion between Customer’s mother and his wife.

  “I don’t know what is happening these days, every station the children tuned to they are talking about corona, corona, corona, what is this corona? Every day, corona” the man’s mother complained to his daughter-in-law.

  “Me too. I don’t know why it is talk about coronavirus every day. We cannot hear anything but corona virus everywhere. The thing is annoying and making me afraid at the same time,” said the younger woman.

  While in the chat, a petit daughter of Customer ran to the corner where the two women were  sitting and said: “Granma, our headmistress said that it is because of coronavirus that they told us to go home today. She said corona is killing people so, she does not want it to come to our school and kill us.”

Indeed, that day, all schools were closed across Anambra State. The day before, all federal government-owned schools were shut notwithstanding the fact that some of the institutions were either in their examination period or about to enter same. All the children are now home, harried, worried and in askance over what is amiss. They know that something is really wrong but not many adults can give them clear answers.

  Truth is that we have a situation that nobody alive now has a clue of how to handle. Even the most experienced professionals in the world today have not handled anything like the current coronavirus pandemic.

No person or institution, even in the World Health Organisation (WHO) has its medication. Kingdoms and countries have become prostrate under the rattling of the virus. All the  leading nations, from the world’s second largest economy,

China in whose homeland the coronavirus emerged to the contemporary world’s number one country, the United States of America (U.S.) which has recorded over 5000 positive cases and about 800 deaths in New York alone to the United Kingdom (U.K.) where even Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth’s family, including Prince Charles are down with the ailment, to Italy and Spain where deaths are being counted in hundreds, the viral afflication which has evolved to COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked the society to standstill.

  In over half of the world’s nations, people have been ordered to stay at home.  Every other thing have been sacrificed from economic activities to politics, to religious gatherings have receeded to the background as leaders of states, organisations and all forms of aggregation rally to seek solutions  to the on-going global rampage of the COVID-19. Literally, the world is on lockdown.

Schools have been closed. Sports, local and international travels, markets, offices, and even landmark events such as the Summer Olympics have been postponed in unprecedented manner. It is like nothing else thrives now but the coronavirus development.

The virus’ hold of the reins of governance, discourse and even social activity currently, is very overwhelming. Discussing the matter in a chat with the emeritus professor of linguistics of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Ngozi Okoye, she coined a pun that, to me, captures the overriding toga of the virus.

  Talking about the pandemic, Prof. Okoye wittily quizzed thus: “Are you talking about the ‘corona-drive-us’?”

  That expression from the veteran French language teacher, instantly captured the current commanding heights of COVID-19. It is in charge, in the driving seat, and driving the world crazy now. Nothing counts now but COVID-19.    

  Governor of the badly hit U.S. state of New York, Andrew Cuomo for example describes coronavirus as a “bullet train” ravageing his country and the world. According to him, his state has spent over $1 billion (USD) but no good result in the horizon.

New York is like many states across the world. Cases are rising in Lagos which had only two cases last week but now over 40 in less than seven days; London where even the Windsor Palace is under siege; Rome where deaths are being counted in scores daily; Madrid where, as Aljazeera reported yesterday, all hospital beds have been taken over by COVID-19 patients, among others.

  Despite the rising death toll everywhere there is a higher rise in confusion, tension and shock caused by a general failure to utilise the social communication. It is such that one feels that there is no better time than now for motivational but effectively communicative messages of hope.

COVID-19 has spread hopelessness universally. Those who give us information on it make us scared like the little girl and her grandma. We are now in a season of despondency.

  Most worrisome too, is not just the physical elements of the ailment which makes its victim come down heavily with cold, respiratory infection, high fever, breathing difficulties among others there are other aspects of COVID-19 that are not ailment that kill more.

These comprise the social stigma which a victim has to live with; the forced-poverty, hunger and loneliness it imposes on a whole society. It equally heightens fear among the old and aging who are mostly its victims and tends to make the aged feel the rest of the world are hostile to them.

  The COVID-19 world as we have today,  shuts out friends, family and associates and starves the world all sources of fun, from recreations to leisure and even the usual meetings in offices, schools, motor parks, markets, temples, mosques and churches. COVID-19 is harsh, not just because it comes with pains,

sickness and at least two to three per-cent rate of deaths, everybody in the society is made to suffer with the ailing as they all have to be holed-up in harrowing homes to avoid being affected by even the air the victim breathes. Hence, none is even allowed to go near the patient or send him words of pity because he has to be quarantined.

The   psychological torture the virus’s victim lives with is compounded by a deluge of alarmist and distractive information that bombard the society daily on the ailment. Even comedians and marabous send ‘vital’ information on the matter.

Vocal speakers in the streets have so many conspiracy theories they bandy. Some political leaders like Donald Trump of the US and Boris Johnson of the UK voice incoherent and distracting comments.

  The confusion is such that the undiscerning person will get confused. Almost every authority has one or two hotlines. W.H.O., countries, states, agencies et al have dedicated lines but In the information from experts, communication is often obtuse and technical given that they are mostly from medical persons who know little or nothing about social communication and public enlightenment.      

  For instance, yesterday, Director-General of W.H.O. Tedros Ghebreyesus, told the world that asking people to stay at home to reduce population movement is an initiative that would only buy time but would not stop the pandemic in long run. He also urged the world not to abandon the victims who are mostly the aged.

  “Older people,” Dr Ghebreyesus reminded in his opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, “carry the collective wisdom of our societies. They are valued and valuable members of our families and communities. But they are at higher risk of the more serious complications of COVID-19.”

He advised “listening to older people and those who work with and for them, to identify how best we can support them.

  “We need to work together to protect older people from the virus, and to ensure their needs are being met – for food, fuel, prescription medication and human interaction. Physical distance doesn’t mean social distance.

  “We all need to check in regularly on older parents, neighbours, friends or relatives who live alone or in care homes in whatever way that is possible, so they know how much they are loved and valued. All of these things are important at any time, but they are even more important during a crisis.”

  The W.H.O. helmsman noted that what COVID-19 pandemic really calls for is “compelling and creative communications about public health,” adding that  “in these difficult times, film and other media are a powerful way not only of communicating important health messages, but of administering one of the most powerful medicines – hope.”

  My history book told me that when the whole has been rattled to sissy at the height of World War II, a certain U.S. president on wheelchair, named Theodore Roosevelt woke humanity by declaring and emphasising that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” He believed himself and got an ally in U.K’s Winston Churchill. They used the mass media well. WWII ended. Both men died great figures. The world needs such men now.

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