All church services at a number of institutions have been suspended amid the coronavirus outbreak. Image: iStock
If we had a chance to avoid lockdown, we blew it.
Before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement there were clear messages about the need to stay home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. We were told when venturing out, we should practise social distancing. The need to flatten the curve was repeatedly explained. A high number of infections in a short time – a spike – will overwhelm our health facilities.
As a nation, we did not heed these warnings.
Yet Ramaphosa did not scold. Instead, he praised the “exemplary” manner in which “all South Africans have taken charge of not just their own personal health but the health of those around them … Everywhere we see signs of behavioural change as the nation rallies behind infection control measures”.
It was noble of him to focus on the positive.
No doubt most of us were observing the rules, but there was much non-compliance. From Cape Town beaches to Johannesburg open spaces, and in too many shebeens, restaurants and churches, folks had other ideas.
For example, people said they would continue walking their dogs and riding their bikes in parks, risking arrest if authorities, “can catch me, and get through my dogs”. Never mind the contagion risks from and to others, including fellow park users, employees who have duties there, and commuting workers.
We’ve seen footage of people in suburbs, townships and informal settlements partying as if there was no tomorrow.
Perhaps they thought rules did not apply to them. Or they presumed they were immune because of age, gender, race or faith. A mixture of wilful ignorance and bravado.
Well, the tomorrow which they thought would never come arrives tomorrow at midnight. Thankfully.
Ramaphosa’s performance when announcing the lockdown was superb in content and presentation. The guy in charge knows what he is doing. Now we should surely understand how we can help to keep the rate of infection down, for the sake of everyone, including ourselves.
Compared with many other countries, we have entered lockdown at an early stage. We have a realistic prospect of dealing with the pandemic. But we can succeed only by concert, by pulling together.
The success of South Africa’s struggle against Covid-19 will depend not on troops and police in the streets but on our willingness, individually and collectively, to follow simple, oft-repeated rules.
Stay home as much as possible, keep a healthy distance from others, wash your hands.
If we don’t flatten the infection curve our healthcare will collapse. The suffering and chaos in Italian hospitals will seem mild by comparison.
To quote 20th Century English writer GK Chesterton: “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty”.
Unlike some generous souls, you and I don’t have R1 billion to donate to the cause.
But we can give full attention to helping our communities in this crisis, starting with our families.
This too shall pass. Let’s not waste this opportunity to rediscover our humanity.
Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.
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