On Friday 27 March 2020, South Africa embarked on its first ever lockdown. In the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa, “This is unprecedented, not only in our democracy but also in the history of our country, that we will have a lockdown for 21 days to go out and wage war against an invisible enemy, coronavirus.” South Africa, along with Italy, France, India, China, Poland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, has implemented the world’s largest and most restrictive – yet necessary – lockdown measures.
It is important to differentiate between self-quarantining, social distancing and self-isolation. Self-quarantining can be defined as avoiding contact with others after close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, but displaying no symptoms. Self-isolation means staying indoors and avoiding contact after displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Social distancing means restricting gatherings to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing should be practised until the pandemic ends, and self-quarantining should be practised for 14 days after exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19; self-isolation should occur for no less than seven days from symptom onset, and 72 hours after the fever has disappeared and there is an improvement in respiratory symptoms.
Social media users have joked that South Africa is currently fighting two pandemics, COVID-19 and stupidity. Despite the president’s advice, many still flooded to the stores before the lockdown, thinking only of themselves and their families as they bought all the toilet paper, sanitiser and essentials that the stores’ restrictions would allow. The words of the Joker resonate at a time like this: “Their morals, their code; it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see – I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other.”
While some have failed to take cognizance of the fact that a 21-day lockdown is a necessity and continue to go about their daily routine, many speak from a place of privilege and do not understand that many stores were flooded with customers during the lockdown because they live hand to mouth and cannot afford to buy in bulk. With payday occurring on different dates and many South Africans relying on social grants to survive, it is likely that stores will still see many customers over the next few days, as most South Africans are not fortunate enough to be able to stockpile in times of panic.
In this time of uncertainty, it is vital to do research before sharing news surrounding the virus, especially now as it is a crime in South Africa to share false information intentionally. In terms of section 11(5) of the regulations under the Disaster Management Act of 2002, it is an offence to publish a statement through any medium with the intention to deceive about COVID-19, anyone’s COVID-19 infection status or government measures to address the pandemic. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for six months, or both. Should you be uncertain about any piece of information, a quick google search will usually do the trick. However, the most reliable source of information is most likely the World Health Organization, which provides advice for the public, myth busters, answers to frequently asked questions, situation reports and the latest information available on the COVID-19 outbreak.
Democratic Alliance interim leader, John Steenhuisen, along with Democratic Alliance shadow minister of health, Siviwe Gwarube, has pleaded with the public to snitch on people transgressing the regulations of the lockdown. In the president’s speech on Monday 23 March 2020, it was evident that the government intends putting its best foot forward in dealing with the virus. However, each member of society has a role to play and should keep in mind that the virus does not move – we do. Consequently, the onus is on each individual to minimise nonessential travel.
With the police and army’s active presence, we can only hope for peaceful, effective law enforcement, and not police brutality. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has urged members of the public to lodge only complaints falling within its mandate, due to an influx of calls relating to police officers not wearing protective gloves and shoppers not maintaining safe distances. The mandate of the IPID is strictly confined to investigating the following complaints: death in police custody, death as a result of police action, discharge of a police firearm, rape by a police official (on or off duty), rape in police custody and assault by a police officer. Complaints that are not of this nature may be directed to the local police, not the IPID.
On the first day of the lockdown, rating agency Moody’s cut South Africa’s credit rating to junk, stating that it is likely that the coronavirus will exacerbate the country’s economic and fiscal challenges. Failure to adhere to the government’s instructions would likely lead to an extension of the lockdown, which would be fatal to South Africa’s economy, which is already in a recession. The sooner individuals abide by the lockdown, the sooner the country will be able to get a hold on the virus.
In the same breath, one must remain aware of South Africa’s socio-economic circumstances. With many South Africans enduring food shortages and high debt, it comes as no surprise that many people are still trying to make a living despite the lockdown. Most people still have to pay rent at the end of the month, their insurance payments will still be going off from their account in a few days, their electricity meter is not going to top itself up and food is not going to appear magically on their family’s table. In this time of need, we have seen great generosity, not only from Johann Rupert, Nicky Oppenheimer and Patrice Motsepe, but also from other individuals and businesses, making a difference where they can. May we continue to embrace our humanity and uphold the spirit of ubuntu as we give generously and help one another wherever we can. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This might be the only time we are able to stay at home, spend time with family, read a book, watch a movie and be making a positive impact.