/ 1 May 2020

Lockdown syndrome: The latest fallout from the Covid-19 crisis

Spain Art Telecom Mwc Virus Health Feature
This picture shows a poster by Italian urban artist Salvatore Benintende aka "TVBOY" depecting Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa wearing a protective facemask and holding a mobile phone reading "Mobile World Virus" in a street of Barcelona on February 18, 2020, a week after the World Mobile Congress was cancelled due to fears stemming from the coronavirus that sparked an exodus of industry heavyweights. (Pau Barrena/AFP)


The day I wrote this was the 32nd day of the lockdown. We were coming into the home stretch. It’s Wednesday and the phased rollback of the lockdown starts on Friday. At this point, I’m feeling like the storm is passing over. It looks like blue skies on the horizon. Just as I was about to let loose a loud sigh of relief, the head of my Johannesburg office informed me that her cousin had been admitted to the hospital for “Lockdown syndrome”. My first response was – “really!” It took all I had to keep from laughing. But, I guess I should have known that something like this would be coming sooner or later.

What I want to know is, where do we go with this? How long can you stay in the hospital after being diagnosed? Must the insurance company cover it? If not, why not? When the lockdown ends, can you defer returning to work because of the residual effects of having to live through a lockdown? 

Is lockdown syndrome another in the increase of mental maladies that we have to fear? To paraphrase one of the iconic lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is “a rose by any other name” still a rose? Is “lockdown syndrome”, merely cabin fever by another name. Hey, what I really want to know is, can we get a pill for it?

Is this “syndrome” another symptom that the lockdown has made us all a little bit crazy? Is it a symbol that we all just need to get a grip on it? One of the more irritating features of the lockdown was that you couldn’t buy cigarettes or alcohol. Is a drink and smoke all we need to get over the hump?

My attempt at humour aside, I’ve not seen anything like this level of panic and hysteria, about anything, during my lifetime. I’ve lived through the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, 9/11, and three other novel corona outbreaks. This takes the cake. The world has gone bananas. 

One of my favorite South African expressions is “It’s no train smash”, which is meant to convey “it’s no big deal”. Well, the corona-panic has been a “train smash” by any measure. It’s reasonable to conclude that when this thing passes, we’ve got some processing to do on a lot of levels, for a lot of reasons. There are definitely some things we need to sort out.

After this thing is over, I hope the first thing everyone does is take a deep breath. A collective “hallelujah” that it’s over would definitely be in order. After that, let’s try to find some common ground in common sense. Instead of folks trying to defend whatever position they took regarding the lockdown, let’s first all agree that we do not want to do this again. Repeat after me — “No more lockdowns, please.”

After that, let’s agree that anybody in the hospital for lockdown syndrome has to be discharged immediately. Furthermore, if you didn’t get lockdown syndrome during the lockdown, the expiration date has passed and nobody gets to have it from this point forward.

 If you’re still feeling blue, after the phased rollback starts, get some therapy. My recommendation would be some serious “retail therapy”. There should be some good deals, don’t you think? Make the mad dash to the closest shopping mall, with or without a friend. Wear a designer mask if you must, but seek the treatment you need.

When, if you didn’t find anything in this piece that prompted a chuckle, find a reason to laugh. I mean a deep-down-in-the-depth-of-your-soul belly laugh. After that, let’s all roll up our sleeves, put our shoulder to the grindstone, and get on with the business of getting out of this hole that we’re in.

Charles Stith was former president Bill Clinton’s envoy to Tanzania and is currently the non-executive board chair of the African Presidential Leadership Centre, a Johannesburg-based NGO