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Editorial: Don’t get risky on the rebound

On Tuesday, much better than expected GDP numbers came out. The economy rebounded at its strongest rate in any quarter since 1993, growing at an annualised rate of 66.1%. On Wednesday, Statistics South Africa said inflation was down a tiny bit to 3.2%. 

These bits of news pushed the rand to below R15 to the dollar. 

This was astounding. When the lockdown — a necessity to stop Covid-19 wreaking total havoc — bit into the economy, millions of jobs were lost, the future seemed bleak. 

It doesn’t mean things are magically fixed. Our unemployment levels are at record highs. Livelihoods have been destroyed. Almost everyone is struggling. But it is good news in an otherwise dark year. 

This is the recovery that people asked for when lobbying President Cyril Ramaphosa to ease lockdown regulations. The trade-off was that government would step back and it was now in our hands to be responsible.

But we are failing.

On Wednesday, the human cost of this easing became apparent. In the evening, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the second wave has begun. Almost 7 000 positive Covid-19 tests had been returned. More than a hundred people had died. 

More people have now died of Covid-19 in the past few months than are murdered in this country each year.  

And we are entering this new wave as an exhausted nation. When he announced the first lockdown, Ramaphosa was talking to a country that was in a recession with high unemployment numbers. But the catastrophe unfolding in Italy and elsewhere showed the consequences of not taking dramatic action. People followed the logic. 

December finds us in a different place. People don’t want to wear masks. They want to party, to celebrate finishing a really difficult schooling year and to grasp at some kind of normality. 

It is understandable … and it is deadly. When people party it up in bars or nightclubs they take Covid home to multigenerational families. 

This, right now, is a horrible place for all the world to be in. But we need to keep looking out for each other. Otherwise those economic gains will be wiped out as the body count grows.  

This is our last regular edition of the Mail & Guardian. Next week, look out for our special Christmas edition. It will have the usual hard news — looking at the politics of 2021 and how Covid misinformation has defined 2020 — as well as our cabinet report cards. 

As a spoiler there; it is one of our worst-ever in terms of rating. But, because this has been a hell of a year, we also have a stack of good news, like the story of people cleaning rivers and how innovation is making our world better.

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