Opinion Piece

In the midst of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak, where does an ordinary South African stand?

Since the breaking of the news about Coronavirus (Covid-19) in China, there has been an extremely rapid spread of the infection worldwide.  Despite the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) diligence on and well-deserved attention given to the Covid-19 matter, the infection has unrelentingly spread like wild fire across the world and outside the borders of China. To date many countries worldwide have reported cases of the virus.

Notably, Covid-19 manifested in African countries after more than 80 international countries, both developed and developing, had been affected by it. Whist worldwide statistics of new infections and mortality rates are not appealing, in view of the true meaning of the human life, which is not only precious but sanctified, losing one through Covid-19 is one life too many.

Egypt was the first African country to test positive for the virus on the 15th February 2020. Later there were rumours of suspected cases in South Africa (SA) but this news was not verified. It could have been fake news, or these cases tested negative under surveillance. At the beginning of March 2020, Algeria also had a positive case, making it the second case in Africa. This was an indication that the deadly Covid-19 had made its entry into Africa. Consequently, the hope that SA and other African countries had was obviously already wobbling. However, the true turning point was still to come.  When African countries, including Nigeria, Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco, which are geographically below the Saharan Desert, were involved, it became a clear indication that Covid-19 was no longer a fairy tale for Africa.

At this stage, WHO announced that the epidemic had not advanced to a pandemic state, but that it was a Global Emergency. WHO required all countries to be proactive and ready to fight this deadly virus which was knocking on their doors. The mind of patriotic Africans living on the African continent, quickly revisited their own catastrophic experience, where African countries have been before with HIV/AIDS, Ebola and various degrees of TB, among other infections. Indeed, it was not good news that Covid-19 had made its entry into Africa. This marked another serious battle, where not only the availability of treatment would be a challenge but, more critically, the need to promote understanding of prevention measures at individual level.

Covid-19 was not just in Africa, but it was below the Sahara Desert which separates Sub-Saharan countries from countries such as Egypt, Lybia and Algeria, among others. The desert had not only failed to provide a geographical and structural divide and isolation role, if one would have imagined it so. This is simply because human beings move around, which is one of the characteristics of a living being.

This situation takes us to the following questions which everybody might be battling with:

  • what is next?
  • who is next?
  • how do I escape this?

This list may be as long as the magnitude of an individual’s reflection, deliberating on the possibility and reality of the virus. Over time, the hope that SA once had to escape the plague, like the other countries there were not among the more than 114 countries that had already been affected by Covid-19.

However, the first case of Covid-19 in SA was announced by Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize on the 5th March 2020, which created a huge national sigh, signifying loss of hope. For every South African and international citizen living in SA, this marked a beginning of an unfriendly and sombre event. There was now scepticism to bring home the SA citizens who are temporarily residing in China. As a South African myself, I find it logically appropriate and reasonable to accept that the outbreak of the virus in SA, before SA citizens were repatriated from China, was a blessing in disguise because the repatriated citizens and SA government would have been condemned for deliberately introducing Covid-19 to the country.

As time progressed, the question of where an ordinary person stood in the midst of the outbreak of the deadly virus in South Africa, was soon overthrown by the growing numbers of Covid-19 infections in our beloved country.

The circumstances demanded that all people do first-things-first, meaning that each person in SA was to not only know what was required to be done in the case an outbreak, but to practically put all necessary comprehensive precautions in practice. While promising news are emerging indicating that some countries are working hard to find an appropriate vaccine and/or treatment for Covid-19, here is the truth that each person should hold on to:

People who have been in contact with infected people:

  • Keep a distance of at least 1 meter and in some instances, 2 meters between yourself and others
  • Quarantine/isolate yourself in your home, for 14 days, if you have been in contact with an infected person/persons
  • Seek medical attention if you develop a temperature or severe shortness of breath
  • Cough into your elbow in order to prevent the spread of the virus from your hands to surfaces you touch
  • Treat your symptoms since there is no cure for the virus
  • Isolate yourself if tested positive for the infection, to prevent spread of the virus. This may be done by working from home or putting studies temporarily on hold, in the case of students. Use personal protective equipment (PPE) especially a face mask if you are obliged to go to a public space, for instance the clinic or hospital.

 People who have not been in contact with infected people:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water, disinfect hands using alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Methylated spirits are a domestic antiseptic that can be used to rub or spray hands
  • Avoid unnecessary travelling or visiting other provinces or countries
  • Avoid being in crowded places
  • If you show signs and symptoms, take action as for people who have been exposed to infected people and get medical attention should you experience a temperature or difficulty in breathing
  • Frequent washing of hands. As hands are critical body parts responsible for making contact with other body parts. Hand washing should be a religiously practiced procedure, for at least 20 seconds
  • Use Personal Protective Equipment such as goggles or a visor, gloves, etc. Also, keep at least a one-meter distance from other people.

While there are some individuals who don’t appreciate nor understand the purpose of the lockdown in SA, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, I personally advocate that we should all acknowledge that human life is unique and has critical value, which can neither be purchased nor exchanged by any humanly transaction.

Life is not only owned but it is one’s responsibility to look after.  I appeal to every person not to compromise on measures that are prescribed to be observed at individual level. Obviously, it does not only require common sense to comply, but more importantly it should be everybody’s moral responsibility and integrity to WHO’s blended approach of containment of the Covid-19 epidemic, rather than the country having to resort to litigation approach.

– Dr Ntombizodwa S. Linda

Lecturer in the Nursing Department