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BARKA DA SALLAH AMID CORONAVIRUS – AWAITING HERD IMMUNITY?

It has been almost a week since Sallah (Eid el Fitr) which was ‘celebrated’ in these our dire circumstances of the fear of COVID-19 and lockdown in many parts of the Muslim world.

Millions would have been in Saudi Arabia for Umrah, the Lesser Hajj, but this year it was impossible. We have seen even the Tarawih and Tahajjud in the Holy Mosques were observed perfunctorily – with social distancing and other protocol.

Here in Kano, Government reopened worship places in the last week of Ramadan. It said it took the decision after considering all options occasioned by demands from the public, and that it consulted widely. This reopening allowed prayers on last Friday in Ramadan and the Eid prayer on Sunday, as well as subsequent Fridays. But Government issued a strict protocol all Imams and worshippers were expected to follow. Government designed that protocol with the assistance of medical and communication experts, as well as the Ulama, Islamic scholars.

The basic content of the protocol stated that at all congregational prayers, Government would provide handwashing and hand-sanitising materials and a massive number of facemasks for use by the congregants. The Imams were required not to deliver sermons (Khutbahs) which may incite, but should sermonise on reassuring and helpful issues. The sermon and the prayer itself should be kept short. Congregants, on the other hand, were expected to follow strict social distancing rules as well as wear facemasks and sanitise hands. Two Fridays and one Eid (and one Sunday for the Christians who have also been included) have since been observed based on this protocol.

There is a sense, and a fear, among many experts in the epidemiology field that, in Nigeria, contrary to what the COVID-19 tests are showing (and especially since the tests numbers are miniscule compared to other countries), many millions of our citizens have (or have had) the coronavirus, but are now either cured or just carriers without evident effect. That’s where the word ‘asymptomatic’ comes from.

For some time now, there is a term we have been hearing, ‘herd immunity’(also called herd effect, community immunity, population immunity, or social immunity), the simple encyclopedia definition of which is ‘a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or PREVIOUS INFECTIONS [emphasis added), thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. In a population in which a large proportion of individuals possess immunity, such people being unlikely to contribute to disease transmission, chains of infection are more likely to be disrupted, which either stops or slows the spread of disease.”

Johns Hopkins University adds: “When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or herd immunity (also called herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease. For example, if 80% of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.”

So we don’t know at what stage we are; FIRST, there is no vaccine yet (which is the shortest route to herd immunity), and experts insist it is still very far off before we start the politics of immunisation all over again. All the ‘medicines’ being touted such as hydroxychloroquine, Madagascar COVID Organics, our own Herb 25, lemon lime ginger concoctions (which this Column supports as they are better than nothing) are at present lucky breaks at best.

SECOND, though tests are ongoing, they are too few compared with our 200 million population to make any definite conclusions. And then the death toll is thankfully low, which gives so many (including some political leaders) a false sense of hope. In some states, it is reported that their governors are been praised for ‘success in fighting coronavirus to a standstill’. This we know to be very dangerous; but there we are.

And THIRD – the possibility that many of us have had recent exposure(or PREVIOUS INFECTIONS) during this episode, and we are already and unknowingly ‘healed’, or that many of us are currently infected but are asymptomatic. Whichever it is, the spectacles at our banks, our markets and our worship places give someone the absolute jitters – whatever lockdown has achieved over time has been put asunder by our careless and carefree attitude at public places. And this despite the considerable public education going out every day.

Now back to our neighbourhood Friday Mosque yesterday. Your Columnist was there to pray, but also toobserve compliancewith the protocol which included an advisory that people above sixty and those with underlying ailments should remain at home. But these categories were there in their numbers – as worship places are the exact places the ill would want to frequent for obvious reasons.

As for facemasks, women in Niqab were quickly ushered in by the Gate Attendants, but only a few men wore masks. One interesting exception was a group of young men who had donned theirs appropriately. There were many gates at the mosque, I therefore did not know at which gate Government’s masks and sanitising facilities were stationed – there were none at mine. The Imam diligently delivered short pre-Khutbah, Khutbah and prayer with short Surahs.

I chose a place by the wall outside the main hall and spread my carpet. I had shadow cover to my left, and the sun was hot and shining bright to my right. I was confident no one would risk praying in the sun when there were trees all over (thus achieving social distance). I thought too soon – an over-sixty, non-facemask wearing gentleman came over to my place, spread his carpet right next to mine and proceeded to do Nafila. I had no time to move away,as soon after prayers started. After Sallama, the friendly gentleman reached out for a handshake! A pocket sanitiser is always handy. And a public education session followed.

So, have we leapfrogged vaccination and are now heading towards Herd Immunity? May Allah make it easy for us.

 

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