By Ndalimpinga Iita
WINDHOEK, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Socialization and physical interaction patterns among people residing in Namibia are shifting, as the southern Africa nation moves to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Namibia's Ministry of Health and Social Services announced the country's first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 14.
It is a tradition in Namibia for people to shake hands, give a friendly kiss on cheeks, hug, touch and other physical interactions. However, such symbolic gestures have become a rare sight and practice as locals shun tradition to adopt new hygiene practices.
Instead, interactions in social circles are mainly limited to word of mouth, a nod of the head, smile or waving.
Jaco Taati, who works in finance at a regional office, said that she has not shaken hands or hugged colleagues or family members since the announcement by the Health Ministry.
"Even though it is tradition to express friendliness and love through hugs and handshakes, things have since changed following the two confirmed cases. Everybody is on alert and avoiding contact. None is offended if greeted from a distance," Taati said on Monday.
Taati is not the only one. Eliz Taayele, who works as a teller at a local shop, wore protective gloves and a mask as a preventative measure.
"The job is risky, hence the need to avoid any physical contact with clients. I also avoid leaning onto surfaces," she added.
Government and institutions have since embarked on robust public education to raise awareness about the spread of the disease.
Johanna Haimene, a director in the health ministry, said that efforts are coordinated through the National Health Emergency Committee.
These include printed pamphlets dissemination, enforcement of quarantine measures and self-isolation.
Key messages are in line with some of the standard recommendations by the World Health Organisation such as avoidance of handshaking, physical touch and frequent hand washing.
According to Haimene, the aim is to give factual information on COVID-19 amid misinformation and fake news.
"It is important for people to know how to take precaution and educate others," she said.
Meanwhile, in Namibia, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also trained health workers to educate the public to enforce standards and enhance understanding.
Charles Sagoe-Moses, the WHO Representative in Namibia, said that this was done for the government to intensify risk communication and community engagement to ensure that people are protected given that COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate globally.
Furthermore, according to WHO, "Every person has the capacity to contribute, to protect themselves, to protect others, whether in the home, the community, the healthcare system, the workplace or the transport system."
More locals have heeded to the call to be more responsible, as a result adopting other forms of greetings demonstrated in videos circulating on social media.
"My friends and I have turned on a kick of feet as well as bowing the head to greet one another as opposed to the traditional shoulder hugs and handshakes," said Sox Damian, a youngster in Namibia.
Meanwhile, residents are encouraged to avoid compound places.
Following the precautionary measures taken against COVID-19 to ensure safety and health to all, government and various institutions have also resolved to suspend mass gatherings.
Namibia has cancelled the country's 30th independence celebrations initially scheduled for March 21.
The education and gender ministries resolved for the temporary closure of schools and early childhood development centers.
The Windhoek municipality has also announced the closure of its parks and recreational facilities for 30 days.
In the interim, the health ministry has introduced a toll-free number, which will serve as a central hub to report suspected cases of COVID-19.