Since the dreaded new coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the world like a storm, a number of frantic measures have been put in place by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in- dividual countries and the inter- national community as a collec- tive to contain its spread.
Defined as protocols, these measures include washing and sanitising of hands, keeping social distance, avoiding large crowds and wearing of face masks. There were also lock- downs to restrict movements. With all these, the pandemic is still taking its toll on coun- tries, affecting their economies and lives generally. But no end seems to be in sight as no reliable curative measure has so far been discovered.
That explains why emphasis is on preventive measures of which wearing of masks is prominent. It is on the basis of this realisa- tion that a group of non-state ac- tors in collaboration with WHO launched the World Mask Week which ends today to encourage more people to do their part by wearing a mask in public.
Given the alarming exponen- tial increase of infection rates across the globe, sustained com- munity masking in public is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, even as situations vary around the world. And un- til effective and reliable vaccines or medicines to fight COVID-19 are discovered, face coverings are one of the best tools possi- ble in the fight against the virus particularly as social distancing is proving to be not sufficiently practicable.
According to the promoters of this initiative, it aims at encour- aging people and organisations around the world to appreciate the importance of wearing a mask to stop the spread of CO- VID-19 during the period and after until a vaccine is available. In the words of the WHO direc- tor-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, people can show
their support by sharing a state- ment, picture or video on social media, tagged with #World- MaskWeek.
Face coverings block the spray of droplets from sneezing, cough- ing, talking, singing or shouting when worn over the mouth and nose. They serve as barriers that help prevent droplets from travelling into the air.
Since people may have COVID-19, but do not know it or have symptoms, con- sistent mask wearing can reduce the spread of the virus. Mathe- matical modelling indicates that masks worn by 80-90 per cent of the population coupled with so- cial distancing could eventually eliminate the disease.
However, it is sad to observe the inconsistency of policies on masking which is causing confu- sion among less sophisticated locals even as there are obvious evidence that failing to wear masks is contributing to the spread of COVID-19. It is im- perative, therefore, that leaders should make clear and consis- tent policies around the importance of wearing a mask out- side the home when in public.
If nearly everyone wears a mask, practices hand washing and social distancing, it is possible to end the pandemic more quickly, prevent suffering and save lives. When everyone wears a mask regardless of status, citizens be- come more focused on listening to the guidance of the medical community, and together lives will be saved.
In Nigeria, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) has not stopped stressing that everyone has a personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19.
This requires playing a role to keep themselves and their commu- nities safe and healthy. Health experts also assert that wearing a mask is a key and simple pre- ventive measure. How this is dif- ficult to understand is baffling.
Curiously, in our considered opinion, despite persistent ad- monitions by the health author- ities in the country and coupled with COVID-19-related deaths, many still believe that the pan- demic is not real. And even if it is, then it must be an elite ailment simply because most of the deaths covered in the media refer to notable personalities.
As misleading as this percep- tion is, it drives home the ur- gency of intensified public en- lightenment. Whether anyone wants to accept the reality of COVID-19 or not, it is a stupefy- ing health challenge that anyone will trifle with at one’s own peril.
The challenge fighting the virus in Nigeria is facing may not be far removed from the expe- riences of how similar health emergencies were managed in the not too distant past giving rise to allegations of financial impropriety.
It is a mind-set that is behind the stubbornness that is so palpable on the part of the rural communities where the people see it as another op- portunity for a few individuals to enrich themselves. True or false is not the issue at this time.
What is cogent is that govern- ments and their agencies must continue to tirelessly spread the message of personal safety. It is from this perspective that this newspaper is convinced enough to join the rest of the world in this campaign to drum home the desirability of wearing a mask.
The life to be saved when a mask is worn is that of the individual who listens to the call to take re- sponsibility for actions that help contain the virus.