The Gambia government have introduced several measures: State of Public Emergency Powers, and Public Health measures and the private sector are also taking steps to contain the virus, treat the affected and prevent an escalation of the disease. 

However, of all the measures taken so far, it seems that not enough attention is being paid to the psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the mental health of some Gambians.

Psychology is critical to our management of the coronavirus pandemic in the country as well, globally. We are beginning to observe very unusual behavior among Gambians and the Gambia Diaspora community. 

People are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in very unusual manners that may have a worse effect than the pandemic itself, such that long after the disease may have receded. We could have a small population of damaged persons who may be struggling with the after-effects.

The coronavirus pandemic is probably the biggest scourge and uncertainty that the world has faced since the Spanish Flu, even with in-depth knowledge of history, a similar the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918-1919 (a century ago), and over 500 million people (33% of the World Population then) were infected, and the virus killed between 20 to 30 million people. 

The outbreak of this coronavirus, uncertainties have induced stress, and people respond to change in unusual manners, and coping mechanisms may be different and elastic. The majority of  Gambians do not seem to be handling the psycho-social implications of the  coronavirus too well. 

With the 45 days of State of the Public Emergency Powers and restriction order that has now been declared by President Adama Barrow and approved by the National Assembly in efforts to prevent and contained the deadly virus, we may be dealing with something fatal. How will people cope? How can they be helped to cope while staying at home to prevent a community spread of the scourge?

In Germany, a state official committed suicide because of the coronavirus outbreak. Suicide! However, perhaps we should also worry about substance abuse. 

Across Africa, people are abusing drugs, herbs, and alcohol. We have seen young men in our local communities who insist that coronavirus cannot survive in an alcoholic environment, and so from sun up to sundown, they are busy taking alcoholic drinks to attack any virus that may find its way to their throats. 

To the best of our knowledge, the only link between alcohol and coronavirus is the advisory that we must all use alcohol-based sanitizers. We have also heard the tale being bandied around that coronavirus is an evil spirit and that marijuana and cigarette will neutralize it. We do not think that is true. 

Nevertheless, of course, the coronavirus crisis has created a virtual and physical industry in myths, conspiracy theories, and fake news. The way we see it, the world is going crazy, and we need to deal with that reality.

Governments, where it is possible, should not just mobilize doctors and nurses, they should immediately mobilize psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health experts, and counselors who can help stem the tide of global psychosis, before and after coronavirus. 

The latter is even more critical because the pandemic is disrupting the equilibrium of households and livelihoods. It has also made small scale entrepreneurs who are hiking prices for opportunistic reasons crazy. 

Unfortunately, emerging poverty and hunger viruses may last longer than coronavirus. We are certainly in a tight corner. Beyond social distancing, we should reach out to one another as a community and as friends, families, and colleagues. 

The short and long term solution to this plague probably lies in collective strength, co-operation, and ethical leadership at all levels.

We first noticed the psychological crisis that we face when immediately after the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ministry of Health also, the World Health Organization( WHO) announced that sanitizers, face masks, and gloves could be used to protect oneself against Coronavirus. 

Some people appear to have used their wives’ bras for a face mask. Gambians did not take chances. They bombarded all the available shops and supermarkets. When President Donald Trump assumed the role of a scientist and further announced chloroquine as the clinical solution to coronavirus, many Gambians bought up all the chloroquine tablets in town. 

Even street corner shops had long queues of persons, buying things they may not need, or perishable items that they can do without. We saw some people at a confectionery, and they were struggling to buy bread. One Cheikh Bah bought 20 loaves of bread. When he was accused of greed and insensitivity, he told his accusers to shut up. After all, he was spending his money. 

At another supermarket one, Musa Sarr, a guy struggling with three trolley loads of toilet paper. He loaded the toilet paper into the trunk of his car.  People buy whatever they can buy because they do not quite understand how this coronavirus thing will turn out.

Perhaps the most significant psychological indication that we have observed is the crisis of “over-confidence” fuelled by the illusion of control, dangerously complicated by ignorance of an African peculiarity. We were shocked to see the markets bustling with reckless energy and stupid community spirit. 

Nobody was observing social distancing. We saw young men hugging each other, shaking hands, and carrying on as if coronavirus was a strange tale told by idiots.

Along the spectrum of the psychotic disorder that coronavirus has generated is the growing community of hypochondriacs and germaphobes. “don’t-touch-me” “don’t-come-near-me,” “maintain-social-distance.” These are overnight scientists. When they step out every morning, it is as if they are approaching a war zone armed as they are with face masks, sanitizers, and sanitary wipes. They even sprayed people before they could say “good morning.” They have become obsessed with Coronavirus. 

They soak in every piece of information on social media, particularly WhatsApp, where a unique type of psychosis is on display. Every minute they are likely to get a forwarded message saying one thing or the other about the disease reading – from conspiracy theories to jokes to treatment advisory: turmeric, ginger, lemon, and all sorts.

Ordinarily, human beings are tactile. They like to relate to one another. We like to touch each other. All of a sudden, we are being told that we cannot touch, hug, kiss, or do all the things we ordinarily do. Social distancing has disrupted our lives. We try to imagine what life would be like after coronavirus. 

We have to re-learn the habits that used to govern our lives. Even the way we speak has changed. Coronavirus has affected human language and may find its way into the English Language dictionary. 

One famous phrase today is COVIDIOTS – persons who refuse to self-isolate or respect official health advisory on coronavirus like people who refused to observe social distancing and believe in the threat of the virus.

We are perplexed. Coronavirus is a matter of life and death. It does not respect geography. It does not distinguish between members of Gambia’s political parties: It is a contagion, a deadly, infectious disease. The smartest scientists in the world are struggling to understand what it is. Some characters sit in Gambia’s rural communities and insist that they have a herbal formula or a spiritual formula that can cure coronavirus. 

If coronavirus moves from the Gambia’s cities to the hinterland and rural areas, we should expect death on a ferocious, Italy-like scale. After the current crisis caused by coronavirus has mostly passed, and social life is mostly back to normal, what are some of how daily living may nonetheless be changed permanently?

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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