Paddy Harper: On life in the time of coronavirus


It’s pitch dark as the roar of angry voices brings me awake. I throw myself upright, scrambling to find something to use as a weapon. For a moment, I’m confused, not really sure where I am. I guess that must be how our head of state feels when he’s “shocked and surprised” by developments in our beloved Republic. In the dark. Lost. Baffled. Scared.

The wood of the floorboards under my feet brings me back to reality. I’m in the lounge, at home, where I’d fallen asleep shortly after Eskom pulled the plug on the second leg of Atlético Madrid’s Champions League fixture against Liverpool, about halfway through the second half, the night before. I’d nodded off while building up the strength to make it to the bedroom. The angry voices aren’t from a rent-a-mob sent to burn me out by some political or business heavy I’ve pissed off in recent months. It’s the Anfield faithful, roaring in frustration over being burgled by Atleti, who, it turns out, had pulled off a 3-2 win (4-2 on aggregate) despite being under the cosh for most of the game and secured themselves a quarter final spot.

Atleti, my team, were 1-0 down but somehow still in it, despite wave after wave of attacks from Liverpool, who, at the time Eksom ended my night’s viewing, were looking set to finish them off within 90 minutes. Somehow Diego Simeone’s mob had pulled off a famous 3-2 away win against what is arguably the best team in world football, with a mere 29% of possession over the 120 minutes of play, by the time the power came back on.

I’m stoked. Atleti have battled in the league this season and are lying sixth. This is a big win.

Perhaps they’ll make the final. If there is one, given the effects of the spread of the coronavirus on sports fixtures around Europe and the rest of the world. It’s hard to see the tournament progressing any further until the spread of the virus is contained and new infections — and deaths — halted.

It’s already 4am, so I might as well have a coffee and get working while there’s some electricity. We’ve been two hours on, two hours off, since the latest round of load-shedding started, so it makes sense to work now.

I hit the news channel.

Things are bleak.


Although China appears to be bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control, with the number of new infections — and deaths — dropping daily, the rest of the planet isn’t, with the numbers of new infections and deaths spiking across Europe, the United States and Africa. Italy is in lockdown, with the US banning travel from Europe.

The number of infections here at home is increasing with every new announcement by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, with the virus moving from province to province. The number of countries hit by the virus is spiralling and now stands at more than 120, with no end to its spread in sight.

Mkhize and his team have been pretty impressive thus far in their response to the crisis and in informing the rest of us what we need to do to avoid getting infected, or if we think we’ve been infected.

Simple, but sensible.

Wash your hands. Cough into your elbow. Avoid unnecessary travel. Stay at home and contact the authorities if you think you’re getting sick.

Don’t panic.

Perhaps we will also end up in lockdown.

It may be unavoidable, given what’s happened elsewhere on the planet. Perhaps the teams tracking down the people who interacted with the suspected carriers will catch up with them in time, but with our borders still open and flights still arriving from Europe and Asia, it does not seem likely that they will. If the numbers keep on rising, there will be no other choice.

I haven’t really done any stockpiling, beyond cannabis, smoking papers and cigarette lighters. I began planning as soon as the first cases were detected on African soil. There’s no way I’m going into a lockdown situation without enough ganja, or oil, to keep me going pretty much indefinitely.

I did buy three masks, back in January when they were still available, for R20 a pop. By the time I started looking for hand sanitisers, they had already all been bought up. I did manage to find a couple of packages of sachets of sanitiser, hidden at the back of a supermarket shelf. They go into my 13-year-old’s lunch box every morning. They’ll run out soon.

Lockdown will be rough, especially with no power. At least I have a gas stove to cook on.

It will be far rougher for the hundreds of thousands of people around the country who don’t have access to water to wash their hands because of the collapse of municipal infrastructure.

Perhaps they — and the rest of us — will find a way to survive this.


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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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