5 July 2020

SA’s COVID-19 horror movie is unfolding

As the number of Coronavirus infections and fatalities increase, some remain inured while many South Africans are increasingly becoming afraid, as we all ought to.

With each passing day, COVID-19 is becoming more real than an apparent risk. More people we know are succumbing to the virus, others are admitted in hospitals while a large number is getting to grips with life in isolation.


On Friday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize released the highest daily rate of infections, hovering at over 9 000 cases a day, with the total figure disturbingly edging closer to 200 000. This increase in infections happens just as other sections of the economy are being open.

Restaurants, notably, will be wide open from this week. More children are returning to school this week. Road traffic reports have suddenly become more important again – a sign that our roads are clogged as millions report for work.

The dilemma initially faced by the government was clear: a prolonged lockdown meant a collapsed economy and the general devastation, including hunger wars, that come with that. The alternative was opening up the economy, which meant dealing with whatever loss of life that may arise from increased economic activity and possibility of a pandemic that may spin out of control, unleashing wanton human suffering complete with mass burials as mortuaries struggle to keep up with the rising body count.

This horror movie that we saw in Spain and Italy and now are seeing in Brazil as it teeters on the brink of such helplessness is heartbreaking. Needless to say, South Africans clamoured for an open economy and our government, ever ready to please, obliged. The state has committed to keep the public and private health systems running and has implored each individual to take responsibility for their actions.

We are humbled by individuals, many of whom are high-profile people, who have come out to declare their positive statuses and record, publicly, their journeys to recovery. These have been nothing short of inspiring. It is worth remembering too that, by Friday evening, there were already 86 298 recoveries. This too is a source of hope in the face of increasing infections.

The absence of widespread attacks and heart-breaking stories of stigmatisation is also indeed proof that South Africans seem to have learned from the dark days of HIV/Aids stigma. This is to be encouraged.

But the bigger battle faced by both the government and individuals seem to be that level 3 feels like level zero. Other than unopened sectors, and there are only a few, life seems to be back to normal.

While many are increasingly alarmed at the rapid rise of infections and deaths, this has not resulted in overdue change of behaviour. Shops are full, roads are clogged and schools are almost full. It seems the only people not returning to work are parliamentarians.

Our treatment of level 3 lockdown as a ticket to do almost anything without regard for the regulations, which are no longer enforced, will come back to haunt us. We implore you, dear reader, to stay at home and leave only when you must.

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