Well, a lot has happened since I last posted. In January only a select few if us had heard of the dreaded Coronavirus Covid-19 and those of us who had heard the stories coming out of Wuhan had little idea of the storm that would soon engulf us. It seemed a distant problem that would surely be swiftly and effectively dealt with before it could affect us meaningfully.
Well, that, like a Twitter exchange with a lonely troll living in his mom’s basement with only the family cat for company, escalated fast. Very fast!
In South Africa we recorded our first case of Covid-19 on 5 March 2020. On 15 March our State President announced emergency measures to reduce transmissions. We were asked to limit domestic travel to essential travel needs only, to work from home where possible and various restrictions were replaced on international travel. We were encouraged to practice social distancing and increase personal hygiene. There was some concern. People started panic buying toilet paper and hand sanitiser and travel definitely slowed down. But in the main life carried on as normal. People still went shopping, eating out and whilst some people did work from home many remained rooted to their old routines.
Then on 23 March the President announced that we would be in lock-down from 00-00 27 March. No one would be allowed on the streets. All flights would be grounded, only essential goods could be sold in stores etc. The army was deployed to patrol the streets and life changed. Possibly forever. Our economy (already under a lot of strain) has all but spluttered to a halt. An eerie calm has descended over most areas.
However the poorest of the poor in both urban and rural areas are simply unable to ‘lock-down’. Many lack essentials like running water and power in their homes. They need to leave their homes to make use of communal toilet facilities. They need to leave their homes to get access to fresh drinking water. They need to travel in (usually overcrowded) minibus ‘taxis’ (actually small buses for my non-African readers), to access institutions where they can get their social grant money. There are very few shops where they live so just getting basics like food means additional trips to get food, paraffin for cooking and lighting and other essentials for life. They cannot panic buy food (like so many others have done) because they cannot store it: the lack of electricity means you cannot run a refrigerator, even if you could afford to buy one. How exactly are these people supposed to isolate when they need to access these communal facilities and travel many kilometers to get the essentials? And this does not even contemplate the challenges of 4 to 8 people living in a leaky shack that is probably no larger than about 4 meters by 4 meters.
These large overcrowded conditions are ripe for a pandemic to take hold, spread and cause terrible suffering. Large numbers of South Africans live with HIV and tuberculosis. This makes them especially susceptible to developing the very nastiest of Covid-19’s symptoms. Our health care system is already stretched. Loading it with additional critically sick people will quickly push us over the edge. Many, many people could die.
This is why we have gone into lock-down. This is why lock-down must work. But will it? We will have to wait and see…
As of today (29 March) we have conducted ~32 000 tests and have 1 187 active Covid-19 cases. Sadly we recorded our first death on Friday. So far we have been relatively lucky. Despite the 1 187 active cases, so far only 55 have been hospitalised and oly 4 of those are in ICU. We can certainly expect this situation to worsen as more and more infections develop…
In the meantime we (my immediate family) are holding up. We were able to get all the supplies we needed to see us through the next week or so. And we have ordered additional supplies via online shopping that should be arriving next week sometime. We have wi-fi and can amuse ourselves. We are obviously worried about the future. As small business owners we have no one to bale us out. We are looking at significantly reduced revenues over the next few months and yet we still have salaries and other operating costs to pay. We have a family to feed… And my business is still in its infancy. We have survived our first year of operation and were hoping to kick on this year, with new plans and growth planned. That is all on hold and we are looking at ways to ensure we can survive the next few months and then reassess. It most certainly focuses the mind… And yet one is reminded of those people in the informal settlements. Living in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions. We are lucky. We can do a lot to keep the virus at bay. They are less in control. They are vulnerable and there is not much that can be done in the short term to help them.
We must all do our best to flatten the curve. We must keep the virus at bay and we must stand together as we do so. We can beat this, but only if we can all put aside our differences and work towards a common goal.
A luta continua!
PS Sorry for the less than light and breezy post but these are serious times… I hope to write a post every two or three days documenting my thoughts. With some luck I will have time to recount what has been happening in my life before the Covid-19 crisis as well as documenting the lock-down. Please keep an eye out… The lock-down will at least result in me having some more time to write…