A few months ago, it was not foreseeable that our streets would be empty spaces, churches, mosques, schools, entertainment joints and social places closed indefinitely.
I had never figured out wearing a surgical mask. How would the world have been in the 21st Century without international flights, with curfews, lockdowns, quarantines becoming the new terminologies? Fair enough, this is it, and we got to live with it.
When I recently called a fairly educated friend in the village, he told me they were going about their business, congregating in the markets before the “corona alarm” went off at 6pm and then they run home.
I had to sit him down and differentiate a curfew from the Covid-19 pandemic. That got me thinking: what does the common mwananchi think about the pandemic?
The fairly educated urbanites have access to all manner of up-to-date information on the pandemic and are assumed to be taking precautions. But as infections cross the two million mark globally, we need to roll up our sleeves to higher caution.
In Kenya, this monster is rolling to the village counties like a wounded python; there is an urgent need to change the communications strategy. It is high time all realised that the safety guidelines are meant to save lives, not the government.
How a country responded to Covid-19 had a role in the its infection patterns.
Candid communication by world leaders and global bodies like the World Health Organisation in vital to reassure the world, as are creating hope and mobilising global support in fighting the pandemic. Miss a step and we are in for it.
Since the first positive case in Kenya over a month ago, the government has exhibited deliberate and sustained communication on the pandemic, which has exhibited professionalism and utmost faith.
The communication has, to a large extent, prepared the citizens to understand the coronavirus, what to expect and to rally behind the government measures to curb the crisis.
As the cases now get to the rural counties, with vulnerable populations and poor or no social amenities, it is high time we changed tack fast.
The rural folk cooperate with and listen to the authorities and professionals. Now, aimless visits to households, whether a cultural norm or not, must cease in the era of social distancing.
The top media houses have shown unprecedented support to messaging in support of the government’s clarion call in the Covid-19 war. Besides adverts, balanced and fair reporting with in-depth analyses and expert opinion spell victory.
If this war will be won in the rural areas, it will be in the vernacular radio and television studios. Consumption of messages among the larger populations is crisp and apt.
But various protocols, especially on treatment, will be viewed differently among cultures. This is with hindsight on how the onset of HIV/Aids in the early 1980s and ’90s led to stigmatisation, a key factor in the fight against the disease.
We must cushion the affected citizens against stigmatisation. Lastly, we must do the most important thing now — flatten the curve.
Every citizen must take responsibility and communicate with efficacy and dignity. One day, coronavirus will be a historical concept. We are learning great lessons.
Mr Mikwa, a communications practitioner, is a research fellow at The New School University, New York. @mwongelaf