Voices

Covid-19 brings people together

2020-03-23 17:51

The late jazz musician and global artist, Sipho Gumede, might have had a point in his masterpiece, When Days are Dark, Friends are Few. But the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic might have proved him wrong. Or has it?

The virus has infected more than 200 000 people (116 in South Africa by Friday) in at least 110 countries and territories globally and it has led to the death of more than 10 000, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Like many countries, South Africa has implemented stringent regulations trying to curb its spread.

Read: Covid-19: Ramaphosa announces ‘urgent, drastic’ measures

The outbreak has led major institutions and banks to cut their forecasts for the global economy. The economic devastation is huge and also worldwide.

Amid the economic gloom and self-isolation, which many have been forced to accept, there are some positive effects that have come from the pandemic.

A friend of mine, Zanele Zungu, who works for an international company in the extractive sector, called me to ask where and how the company could help in the fight against Covid-19. She said the company was prepared to mobilise others in its area of operation to offer support as well.

And the MEC for health in Gauteng, Bandile Masuku, reported that communities in the Johannesburg area had organised themselves into action groups to offer help and support to fellow citizens.

Gauteng LUR
MEC for Health in Gauteng Dr. Bandile Masuku. Picture: Supplied/ Argief

Ahead of the pandemic we despaired at the sight of our flag being burnt, ordinary people protesting in the streets in different parts of the country, a dysfunctional state and rancour dominating our politics. We could not help but wonder: Is the centre no longer holding?

Regardless of what we have seen or heard about the pandemic – the core problem facing society now – one of the greatest things to come out of Covid-19 is the revival of community spirit.

We witnessed panic buying, which led to rising concerns by the poor, the elderly and the middle class, who believed the (white) rich were taking everything with no regard for other citizens.

Social media was abuzz with people who were, and are, scared of the dreaded virus. Some even jokingly placed toilet paper as a fundamental human need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Chain stores and political leaders were quick to respond, offering assurances that food supply chains were intact and no person should panic-buy. They said supplies would be replenished. Another example of community spirit in action.

Hand hygiene is back. Hooray. According to the WHO 2012 estimates, lack of water, sanitation and bad hygiene were responsible for 842 000 annual deaths from diarrhoea and 15% of the Global Burden of Disease in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (the sum of years of potential life lost to premature death and the years of productive life lost to illness or disability).

In South Africa, diarrhoea and respiratory infections are major public health problems and are among the top causes of death in children. Respiratory and diarrhoeal infections are ranked the second- and third-leading causes of death among the under-five population, and the third- and fourth-biggest killers of children between the ages of five and 14.

The owner of fashion giant Louis Vuitton has said the company would provide French authorities with hand sanitiser “for as long as necessary”.

South African authorities have emphasised hand hygiene as imperative in curbing the spread of the virus. It seems most people are adhering to their advice. If everyone gets into the habit of washing their hands regularly, the collective action could result in reducing unnecessary deaths of children (and adults).

Amid the economic gloom and self-isolation, which many have been forced to accept, there are some positive effects that have come from the pandemic.
Chris Maxon

As African people, we have a word called ubuntu – the original meaning of which is “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks to the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. We are all connected. You can’t be human alone; your family plays a crucial role in ubuntu.

There has not been a better time to stay at home. Whether it’s Kwa Mam’Mkhize, Mnakwethu, Isibaya or Our Perfect Wedding, we’re told that this is a golden age for television, especially drama. What better time to watch that boxset you did not get round to in the past?

As people are forced to work from home, some now can keep two jobs to help manage their debts and feed their families.

We have also seen that education is being forced to have a rethink as e-learning becomes popular.

This will force the government and its departments to rethink how to improve the delivery of services.

I know that e-health is now more in demand than before. It allows people to interact with their healthcare clinicians via cellphones or video conferencing without the associated costs of gaining access, for example, transport fares and time lost from work.

While we fight the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, we must not lose sight of the future we need to build. And we should not be complacent.

In less than a month, the number of confirmedCovid-19 cases multiplied from one case on March 5 to 116 by March 19.

The global infection rates, scary as they are, show just how much the out-of-control virus has spread, especially in the hardest-hit communities.

Read: SA to ramp up Covid-19 test capacity as it heads into virus storm

The faster the infection curve rises, the quicker the healthcare system gets overloaded beyond its capacity to treat people. As we’re seeing in Italy, more and more patients might be forced to go without ICU beds and more and more hospitals might run out of the basic supplies they need to respond to the outbreak.

As there is no vaccine or specific medication to treat Covid-19, and because testing is so limited, the only way to help the fight is through collective action.

The government has recommended that all citizens wash their hands frequently, self-isolate when they’re sick or suspect they might be, and start “social distancing” (essentially avoiding other people whenever possible) right away. Your actions count. Play your part.

Maxon is a public servant and social commentator

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March 29 2020