Coronavirus pandemic and the test of social distancing

THE outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the world has really wreaked havoc across countries and nations, with governments and medical experts and personnel at their wits end as to what to do to combat the pandemic. Because of the novel nature of the covid-19 virus and its reported mutative propensity, it has been difficult to detail what steps would curtail the spread of the virus beyond recommending what seems to work from the many initiatives tested. And one of the steps found to be effective in slowing down the spread of the virus has been the need to quarantine those infected or suspected to be infected even as the rest of the population is advised to practice social distancing – through restriction of human to human contacts, given that the virus is spread essentially through such contacts.  The advice on social distancing has led governments everywhere to ban large gatherings, restrict movements, stop workers from getting to work, ask all to be careful about getting too close to many people. This becomes essential as the virus has many days of incubation making it possible for one that is infected not to know even while he/she is infecting others. The appropriate response therefore has to be the logic of social distancing with everybody being careful about mingling with others.

Unfortunately,  this logic of social distancing has been kept more in the breach everywhere in the world as people have had to be forced to obey the principle and keep away from organising or attending large gatherings. Apart from the economic iimplications which have led many not to want to stay at home since they needed to be about before they could earn a living and be able to take care of themselves, it is also the case that humans are essentially social beings who derive validation and essence from their interactions with others. The implication is that the directive on social distancing, though very important and lifesaving in the present circumstance of the coronavirus pandemic, it is essentially a negation of the social essence of human beings. It is therefore not surprising to find that in country after country many are defying the directive and apparently behaving as if on suicide mission. The Chinese government had to militarily enforce the shutdown order on its citizens before it could get them to obey and then get the benefit of the compliance in reduced rate of infection and later a thaw in the spread and impact of the virus. The same way that the British Prime Minister,  Boris Johnson,  found himself defied by many Britons a day after agonizingly telling them about the need to have a shut down in the country if they are going to have the chance of a handle on the raging coronavirus with many Britons massively invading the trains to get everywhere without minding the social distancing order. In the end,  the British government also had to resort to enforcement to get its citizens to keep to themselves and save the country from further rapid rate of infection of the coronavirus.

The truth is that both China and Britain were seeing humongous number of coronavirus infections when the citizens refused and were reluctant to keep to social distancing. In which case,  with Nigeria having a low number of infections and the country not at the verge of being overrun by the pandemic, many Nigerians understandably could not see the need for them to suspend their social engagements for the sake of the coronavirus. Even while the governments, at the Federal and state levels, were getting apprehensive about the growing level of infection in the country and issuing orders for people to exercise social distancing and keep away from large gatherings, Nigerians were busy getting along with organising weddings and burials and carrying on as if the directives from the governments were not for them.  The most concerning were the religious organisations which did not just disobey the directives, but argued that the God they served would only protect the adherents if they continued to attend the massive religious gatherings. In essence, religious groups in Nigeria were setting up their own rules and directives in direct contradiction to the governments’ directive on social distancing. Churches and mosques continue to have their members come in for prayers especially against the coronavirus with many of the preachers telling their members that God has anointed them against coronavirus by just being part of the religious gatherings and not accepting or obeying the governments’ directive on social distancing. And Nigerians are also not stopping the organization of parties as they could not contemplate not having their social engagements because of some directive on coronavirus.

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Sadly, Nigeria is a place that would need to enforce the social distancing directive more forcefully than in other places because of the lack of health infrastructure to cope with any dramatic increase in coronavirus infections. If other countries with better facilities and infrastructure get overwhelmed by increase in rate of infection of the coronavirus as a result of reluctance of citizens to quickly submit to and obey the directive on social distancing, we can only imagine the disaster waiting to happen in Nigeria if steps and actions are not taken to ensure that citizens drop their reluctance and enthusiastically embrace the directive on social distancing. This is why it is important for all governments in Nigeria to go beyond the platitude of annoucing directive on social distancing and take steps to enforce the directive. No doubts, human beings are social beings and pride themselves on the importance of social engagements. Joanna Coles has even emphasized that human engagement is the most important guarantee for a happy and fulfilled life. But it has to be recognized at this point, that the whole world is in an emergency with the current coronavirus pandemic. Emergencies call for extraordinary actions and do not permit of doing the normal things. This is why the directive on social distancing should be seen as a test on the normal human capacity for social engagement and the need to depart from that normal in order to preserve life. (see the rest on


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