/ 9 July 2020

Editorial: Combating Covid-19: ‘It is now in your hands’

Editorial Mg
(Mail & Guardian)

Taking preventative measures — washing hands and wearing masks — protects people who do not have choices about where and when they can go to work 

This is how President Cyril Ramaphosa signed off his announcement that the country would move to a level three lockdown, just less than two months ago. 

At that point, 22 000 people had tested positive and 429 had died. We now have 10 times that many people testing positive, and deaths are closing in on 4 000. 

The easing of lockdown restrictions was an attempt to balance the economic catastrophe of a hard lockdown with the need to keep people safe. That balance is all the more precarious if we don’t make the most basic efforts to curb the speed at which the virus is spreading.  

Yes, this government, under its ANC leadership, has brought us to a situation in which there are few choices as to how we respond to this global pandemic. 

The healthcare system, from wealthy provinces such as Gauteng to the corruption-crippled Eastern Cape, is in a perilous state. We are already seeing the effects of that, with hospitals and clinics full before we reach any sort of peak, and thousands of healthcare workers becoming infected.  

And we have few economic options because our state has been co-opted by elites for their own enrichment. They continue to drive their Range Rovers while people die of hunger. We began our national lockdown with final junk status confirmed, and our response has been hampered by needing to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund because there is no money left locally.

For all these issues, there will have to be a legal reckoning. The arrests linked to the VBS bank heist are a start. We have to see more. 

Right now, we have to deal with the reality before us. 

As we report in our lead story, “The single most important intervention government can make is to make it compulsory for everyone to wear a face mask.”

Wearing a mask protects others. 

It seems as if our death rate, at less than 2% of confirmed Covid-19 cases, is low because of factors such as our young population. It is easy to conclude from this that some of us will be invulnerable. But we also have a population that is incredibly susceptible to the virus. And we have an economic system that forces the poorest, who are already breathing in dirty air that lacerates their lungs, to huddle together in the back of bakkies to get to work. 

Doing all the things that are right in front of us — washing hands, wearing masks and moving around only when absolutely necessary — protects those who do not have choices about where and when they can go to work. 

This is in our hands. Despite the destructive system created by politicians and corporations, we can show the power of community and humanity.