South Africa

News24.com | Zweli Mkhize: Collective effort by every citizen worthy in the effort to combat Covid-19

If people are allowed to flood back to the way life was before, infections would surge, effectively undoing everything that has been sacrificed thus far.  

The sun has risen and set 54 times since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced plans to lockdown South African society in a bid to stall the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The nationwide lockdown - unprecedented in scale and reach - has set every citizen on a singular trajectory, galvanising all sectors of society into one, the unyielding march of time becoming the inescapable common denominator.  

But each second lost by the cleaner, the taxi driver, the policeman and the CEO, has been gained by our countrymen who would have inevitably fallen victim to the deadly pathogen which sweeps across our land.  

The lockdown effectively stalled the exponential spread of the coronavirus, allowing the healthcare sector to prepare for the rising wave of infections and deaths.  

Had we done nothing, estimates show that by this point, as many as 80 000 South Africans would have been infected, and nearly 2 000 of our brothers and sisters would have lost their lives.  

This is the immutable reality - time lost by some has been gained by others. 

The discomfort of the restrictions imposed on movement, business and other personal freedoms has been bartered for this time, buying weeks needed to prepare our hospitals and healthcare workers, and giving those who will succumb to this virus days, hours, minutes and seconds with their loved ones.  

This has been our duty.  

The collective effort, borne by every citizen, has been worthy in the effort to combat that virus.  

The time gained in this period has not gone to waste.  

More than 10 million citizens have been screened for symptoms of the virus; 376 quarantine sites have been identified across the country, adding more than 30?000 quarantine beds to our health capacity; almost half a million people have been tested for Covid-19; field hospitals have been constructed; and millions of units of personal protective equipment have been procured. 

Our mortality rate of 1.8% remains well below the global average, which is currently 6.6%, and our recovery rate is 42.4%, which is above the global average. 

All these achievements have been the quid pro quo for the time lost by South African citizens in lockdown.  

Had we not traded freedom for time, hospitals would now be overwhelmed, and our concern would have been drawn away from saving lives by the need to excavate mass graves for those we would have lost.  

But there has been criticism that some lockdown restrictions are too harsh, are nonsensical, and are not based on scientific principles. 

Members of opposition parties have said there is no longer justification to keep a hard lockdown in place. Such comments come at a time where provinces like the Western Cape comprise 60% of the national cumulative cases, with cases increasing exponentially on a daily basis as compared to the rest of the country. 

Others, who hold prominence in South Africa’s science fraternity, have called the lockdown unscientific and openly mocked some of the restrictions in place.   

The truth is that there is no blueprint on how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, when or how to implement lockdowns, or what restrictions to impose. Each country is left to its own situational analysis and our government has erred on the side of extreme caution. 

We have looked at other countries, and from those lessons, implemented what has been described as some of the world’s most stringent restrictions, taking a do-all approach rather than having to answer that dreaded question in the future: “What more could we have done?” 

Even now, while trying to strike a balance between containing the spread of the virus and the economic effects of a lockdown by slowly easing restrictions on a district-based approach, there are risks.   

World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus continuously warns that countries must proceed with caution when easing lockdown restrictions. He indicated that countries that rapidly proceed to undo a lockdown without precautions risk to lose everything. 

In the weeks to come, different areas will experience different levels of lockdown – this district-based approach seen to be the most practical and implementable measure to balance the epidemiology of the virus with the economic risks of a continuous hard lockdown.   

We have evaluated the level of infection and noticed a wide variation across the country. 

Those districts with low transmissions will be put on a vigilance programme to maintain low levels of the virus while those districts with high transmissions, as well as metropolitan areas, will be classified as hotspots where restrictions are necessary and strong teams of medical experts will be deployed. 

The outcome of these interventions will determine if there is a need to impose lockdown restrictions in a limited geographic district or metropolitan area. 

Looking abroad, some countries that had eased restrictions are closing down again after a renewed spike in infections. Two weeks after it appeared to have contained the virus, Lebanon experienced a surge of infections with officials now ordering a four-day, near-complete lockdown.  

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, a cluster of six new infections has emerged more than a month after the city had apparently rid itself of the disease. Germany, regarded as one of Europe’s success stories in efficient Covid-19 management, is now warning that some areas may have restrictions reinstated.   

If people are allowed to flood back to the way life was before, infections would surge, effectively undoing everything that has been sacrificed thus far.  

Small tokens, like the regular washing of hands, coughing into a tissue or bent elbow and doing what we can to avoid close and unprotected contact with others, will ultimately save lives.

Cloth masks will become our uniform, a symbol of each personal effort to stop the virus in its tracks. 

For each and every South African, the collective response has paid dividends, all because of the lockdown we have embraced.  

The sacrifice of every man, woman and child has not been for nought. Each citizen can be credited with saving the life of another. 

There can be no higher honour. 

- Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health 

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