A pandemic is not an ordinary health issue. It must lead to far reaching changes in all aspects of national life. The National Assembly has suspended law making. The judiciary has suspended law administration and enforcement. However, arrests and detention are still taking place. Police stations are likely to be congested. Prisons will continue to harbour remanded prisoners without trial.
Common sense teaches that the suspension of court proceedings should not be automatic. A grace period should be given to allow bail to be accorded to all those who are in custody to acquire bail to decongest the remand wing. The Inspector General of police must also ensure that bail is given to those arrested by police officers. A method of queuing outside police stations and be granted bail in an organised fashion without putting police officers at risk is urgent. Hand washing facilities should be available outside all police stations and all police officers should be provided with disinfectants that should be used at all times while on duty. This should be followed by the provision of hand washing facilities at the entrances of all markets, health facilities, garages, offices, airports, seaports, mosques, churches, so that general washing of hands in addition to promotion of reduction of social gatherings requiring close contact with people. A culture of cleanliness should be the gift given to Gambian society by a killer disease.
It is also important for the authorities to bear in mind that extra ordinary measures should not lead to paralysis in managing the affairs of society. The object of public service is to promote general welfare. Any measures taken to address the coronavirus should promote general welfare. Hence all sectors of society should be alerted to prevent shortages of food, drugs, soap and other means of fighting COVID-19.
Panic is not the answer. The real answer is organisation and anticipation that the government on its part will remain engaged with the population by informing them of all its plans in advance so that the people will take ownership of decisions made to fight the illness. The closure of borders and airports should be undertaken on the basis of consultation with other sovereign governments and time frame given and the public fully informed of the causes and consequences. Passengers should be informed before boarding of what to expect when they disembark. Their first port of call should be the health facilities and places where passengers are taken for screening should not appear like detention centres, but observatories where health facilities and the right environment are provided to promote general welfare. Families should be informed what the state is providing and how they could supplement state support to enhance greater comfort.
The period of residential observation should be linked to a voluntary spirit rather than implying forceful detention. Schools should also be provided with facilities for washing hands at the entrances when they resume even if the threat subsides. The transitional period should be accompanied by advice to those who provide goods and services to maintain the spirit of solidarity that a nation needs to avoid panic, food shortage, hoarding, skyrocketing prices and sale of inferior products just to exploit public desperation. A new mindset is necessary to address the challenges of COVID-19 and to sustain the mindset to build the requisite preventive strategy to address any other epidemic or pandemic.