Sudan: Good Habits Acquired During Lockdown - Will They Remain?

Sudanese are widely sociable, where both happy and sad occasions usually attract large congregations, thousands in some cases who meet in close intimacy.

But of late and in the light of the ongoing coronavirus menace, the public has been forced to renounce this habit. It is now three months after the pandemic has entered Sudan and the public feels obliged to avoid much wide contact. The question now, in case the disease is declared over, would Sudanese resume their usual massive assemblies or will they get adapted to the new situation imposed by the pandemic?

To find answers to these exclamations Sudanow magazine has made a fact-finding tour in which it probed the thoughts of ordinary citizens and specialists.

Citizen Hassan Ahmed Alhassan, a private sector employee, is of the view that life would not return to normal in the foreseen future; the restrictions and fear from the disease will prevail for sometime.

"One of the positive results of the lockdown was that it was a time of reflection and assessment of our social conduct and habits," he said.

He said that through good resolve the public can avoid assemblies in cafes, markets, sheesha (hookah) shops. "There is no need to waste time and energy in empty wondering in these places," he said, adding that many youngsters have now quit smoking and adapted to reading and other hobbies and staying home with the family.

Hassan said many wise youths have become less extravagant and tended to save money formerly used in lavish spending during wedding parties. Such parties have now been confined to close family members of both weds.

But Hassan has also noticed that some would-be-weds were waiting for the lockdown to be lifted to return to "those noisy" wedding festivities.

Mrs. Ensaf Mohammad Omar, a housewife, has noticed that the usual weekly, or monthly, meeting of extended family members had come to a halt in avoidance of crowds and possible infection.

But madam Ensaf feels that those crowds may return when the lockdown is over. Here she advises for health, protective precautions.

"If I can say it, there may come a day when we thank the coronavirus for ridding us those extravagant habits on mourning and wedding occasions and replacing them with courtesy calls on the social media," she said.

But I am not sure whether those habits would come back when the pandemic is over, she added.

It has been noticed that less people now go to the big markets. There is also an increase in online shopping and home delivery. This may indicate wider future awareness about these means of shopping. "Shopping in markets may be obsolete in the future," mused Ms. Ensaf.

But she said men and women may never stop going to the barbers and hairdressing shops, though women have now stopped to go to the hairdressers, doing it on their own at home with the help of online education. "Now the question: will the expression 'I am going to the hairdresser' become something from the past?", queried Ensaf.

General Health and Epidemics Consultant, Dr. Mohammad Osman Maysara, said the coronavirus is a novel pandemic for which no decisive cure has been found. It attacks the respiratory system and is communicated from an infected person to a healthy one. Despite this, the pandemic is not as dangerous as some other epidemics. It is easy to guard oneself against it by avoiding crowds, wearing masks, exposing the body to direct sun for no less than half an hour everyday, balanced nutrition and the immediate reporting of a suspected case of infection.

Adds Dr. Maysara, who is also former consultant of the World Health Organization, :in Sudan we are governed by established customs and traditions characterized in the gathering of big crowds. It appears that the changes which occurred as a result of the lockdown will stay for sometime in the future. For example office workers can now work from home. Still there are others who need to go out for work such as construction workers and farmers.

Many firms were forced to ask their staff to work from home. And this may by a turning point that renders working from home the norm. Many Sudanese could not quit the habits that help the spread of the virus. This is due to ethnic diversity, the wideness of the country and the diverse ways of living in the towns and villages, in addition to the lax enforcement of the law and the inadequate health education.

In the meantime, the curfew period is very short, and would have no noteworthy effect. Because of that there is need for health education on the part of all those concerned until the public is convinced to never return to the habits they stopped during the lockdown.

Food-wise, nutrition expert Ms. Nazik Mohammad Ahmed Fadl, is of the view the public was selective during the lockdown in terms of food materials. The people opted for foods they believed boosted immunity, such as those containing Vitamin C, available in fruits and vegetables. "People opted for soups and juices," she said.

She said the public also started to look for Sudanese traditional medicines such as ginger, hibiscus, honey ... etc a matter that will encourage tapping our natural resources.

A visible tendency towards cleanliness was also noticed. People looked keen to wash their hands with soap before and after the meals.

It is in the conventional wisdom that if one keeps a certain type of behavior for 21 days, this behavior would become part of his character.

People also started to keep physical distance from sick persons, even if these persons were suffering from an ordinary cold. Here utensils used by the infected persons are separated from those of healthy people. This was a positive conduct people acquired from the pandemic.

The members of the public also started to change their clothes and expose them to direct sun rays once they were back home.

Less people also now go to attend social functions, contrary to the usual crowds of the past. The public is urged to keep this tendency in future.

Social Psychology Specialist, Dr. Muaaz Sharfi said as a result of the media's health enlightenment campaign the public has started to look for healthy food, wash and disinfect their hands and furniture "to keep themselves safe."

Socially, he said, people have lessened contact with others by refraining from social functions (weddings and funerals) and home visits in most cases.

Dr. Sharfi considers this a departure from the established social conduct of the past when the individual paid more attention to the society than to his own self.

Now that the virus has become a reality in our society, everybody has to take care of and protect himself, he said.

This consensus upon the role of the pandemic in changing some bad social habits raises another important question: Will this change remain?

The answer to this question is given by health psychology researcher Dr. Phillippa Lally of the University College London. She says she and her team had checked 96 persons over 12 weeks to see the time taken by an individual to move from a old casual conduct to a new one. The result was that the shift from old habits takes 66 days.

But the time required to acquire a new habit differs according to the behavior of the individual and his surrounding situation. It takes 18-254 days to acquire the new habit.

And if you want to determine a time for doing away with an old habit and acquire a new one, this takes an average 2- 8 months, on the condition that you should not be upset if your plan fails. You should devise a quick plan to be back on track.

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