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Editorial: Decisive leadership in Covid-19

Last week the Brazilian health minister warned that the country’s public health system was likely to collapse under the strain of the coronavirus by the end of April. Although this was fear-inducing to most people in Brazil, that country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, decided to take selfies with supporters outside the presidency. This, despite the fact that 20 members of his travelling party to the United States had tested positive for Covid-19 and the fact that he had been advised to self-quarantine. Bolsonaro has also berated governors who have enforced quarantines for being “excessive”.

“It’s an excessive dose of medicine — and too much medicine becomes poison,” Bolsonaro said, rejecting criticism of his administration’s response. “I’m the manager of the team and the team is playing very well, thank God.”

Further north, his partner in ignorance, United States President Donald Trump, has similarly downplayed the seriousness of the situation, from comparing the coronavirus to no worse than the flu to insisting that the restrictions currently in place will end by Easter.

In the United Kingdom, media reported that people in its ruling Conservative party saw a 2% death rate as acceptable because closing businesses would harm the economy. The country gambled on a tactic of allowing people to continue business as usual. Now, nearly 500 people have died as a result.  

As we’ve become all too accustomed to, science, truth and facts are seemingly no match for stupidity.

In contrast, since South Africa’s patient zero was identified on March 5, President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed the nation and has led it decisively and with empathy at all the critical intervals. Having consulted with experts and his Cabinet colleagues, the president this week again changed the lives of all South Africans by announcing a lockdown. With very little time to address the legalities of it all, much less the practicalities, this government understands and constantly reiterates the one unequivocal truth about this virus — time is of the essence. We’ve seen countries such as Italy and Spain overtaking China, which has more than 20 times their populations, in terms of infections and mortality. To survive we have to learn quickly. Effective, decisive leadership has proven critical to containing the spread. In this, the reaction of the president and this government leaves little to be faulted.

Perhaps most importantly, Ramaphosa has conveyed the surety that we are together in this unprecedented time. That there will be pain, yes. That this too shall pass. As you read this, we pray that you are safely ensconced with your family or loved ones and that you stay safe. Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika. 

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