Unless a well-planned COVID-19 lockdown strategy is employed, the potential for community backlash cannot be ruled out.
Lockdowns have been used in other countries to control the spread of COVID-19 within communities. The rational is simple, ceasing human contact is probably the only way to stop the spread of the virus. Essentially, the less contact people have with each other, the less the virus can spread.
A workable homegrown plan that is tailored to our socio-economic situation needs to be drawn up. An ill-taught out lockdown plan could potentially result in social disorder, depending on how long the lock down will go for.
The reason being that a good percentage of the people and families in Honiara are living on ‘hand to mouth’ basis and will need to go out of their homes to the garden or to a nearby canteen. It is not possible for a good majority of families in Honiara to stock up on food or supplies.
Also, most families depend on produce sold at the market or income from roadside betelnut and food stalls. These families are surviving on what little they earn that day. Most are residing in squatter settlements around the town’s peripheries, where social distancing or stringent rules on movement may be difficult to implement.
I asked George of Malaita and his wife who sell betelnut at the Fijian Quarter area about the likely impacts of a potential lockdown on their family. George said that since he lost his job the only means of survival for his family of six is through the sale of betelnut.
“A lockdown would mean we will have no money, because we are only able to feed ourselves on a daily basis from the sale of betelnut,” he said. “I understand why a lockdown is needed if the virus spreads, but I need to feed my family at the end of the day,” George added.
In the event of a lockdown, the government must be prepared to step in to assist such families through the provision of food items or some sort of food stamp to help them stock-up on food rations for the duration of the lockdown.
Discussions should now be taking place with some of the big retail shops in Honiara, implement some sort of a food distribution plan in the event of a lockdown. An idea could be to prepurchase essential food items, and have them distribute the food to the more vulnerable areas in Honiara during a lockdown.
A blanket lockdown without due consideration for the plight of such vulnerable group is sure to draw unintended and even catastrophic consequences. This would jeopardize the exercise or worse still, aggravate the COVID situation.