A mother brings her child to receive a breakfast nutrition pack from the 9 Miles Project feeding scheme in the 7de Laan informal settlement in Cape Town. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma) Less
If we are going to stand any chance of personal survival, we need to come to terms with the fact that the world as we knew it has changed.
Three months ago, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we took an almost morbid delight in what was happening. Many of us accepted the dire predictions that the world would never be the same again and tried to imagine what the future could be like. Weeks into the global pandemic, as city after city in the world shut down, we marvelled at the way in which pollution was disappearing. Suddenly the joy of smog-free cities excited us as we realised that the environmentalists were not so wrong after all. If we could cut down on our use of fossil fuels we could improve the air quality of the atmosphere, and the results were there for all to see.
The pictures of highways devoid of cars were almost surreal. The pictures of the clear water canals of Venice even had us believing that dolphins and other marine life were populating the canals again. And even when it was shown to be false, we did not mind, because we imagined that if we are vigilant, it was possible that the dolphins might just take up the offer. We speculated how the world of work would have to be reconfigured. We already know that face-to-face meetings are not a necessity and that many of us can be as effective working from home as we are working in an office.
The joy of not being stuck in the morning or afternoon traffic seemed like one of the biggest bonuses bestowed on us by the coronavirus pandemic. Concerns over the safety of our children had many of us looking at the possibility of home-schooling or online learning, and for those with access to technology and the internet, it seems almost inevitable. It was also clear that many industries like entertainment and hospitality would have to be reimagined. All these discussions kept us occupied as we imagined the new world post-coronavirus. But most of all, we agreed that the world would never be the same again.
The severity of the pandemic was tempered by the many feel-good stories that we were sharing. Football players and other sportspeople stepping up and finding ways to contribute to the elevation of the suffering of others. Ordinary people sharing what little they had with those less fortunate. We appreciated the value of people doing jobs that previously we had not given a second thought to. Shop assistants, garbage collectors and nurses were putting their lives at risks on our behalf. New words entered our everyday vocabulary: self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown, frontline workers, PPE… We embraced the opportunity to do good and to be better people. The sense of solidarity allowed us to empathise with others who were in dire straits. We shared video clips of Italians singing from their balconies even as the beast was devouring more and more of their countrymen.
Sadly, after 10 weeks the novelty has worn off and lockdown fatigue has us looking inwards. We have hit the reset button and fallen back to our normal default position. As livelihoods and incomes are threatened, the need to blame someone becomes ever more attractive. We are all struggling to find the appropriate response to the prevailing situation. It is quite disheartening that insult and abuse have taken the place of rational argument. Typically, now we hear that the government does not really know what it is doing and that this or that minister is just enjoying exercising power and making decisions that make no sense and which have nothing to do with combating the virus.
After starting off quite well, with a coherent strategy, the government’s communications wheels seem to have come off in a rather clumsy fashion. Instead of having one central communications filter through which all information flows, it has been left to a plethora of ministers and spokespeople to get the message across. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the messages sometimes get gunged up in the detail and are not always clear.
In this kind of situation, it is easier to ignore the global issues as you focus on your own personal hardships, whether they are material or mental. We seek emotional comfort by clutching at the proverbial straws. Quoting the Swedish government’s response to the coronavirus has become very popular because Sweden did not go for a hard lockdown as South Africa and many other countries did. Sweden kept its economy open and relied on the population to decide on doing the right thing. Unfortunately, in the process, Sweden has experienced more deaths than all the other Scandinavian countries combined. And because national economies are linked to regional economies and global economies, the impact of the other economies in Europe has had a negative impact on the Swedish economy as well. So, the reality is that Sweden has suffered multiple deaths, far in excess of its neighbours, without being sure if it has chosen the right path. South Africa, on the other hand, has chosen to err on the side of caution and to follow the guidelines as outlined by the World Health Organisation.
It is incredible how major multinational corporations have gone bankrupt in a matter of weeks. International airlines, one after the other, have succumbed to the economic pressure that has directly affected them since governments around the world have shut down borders. Despite President Donald Trump’s attempts to accelerate opening the economy, almost 40 million people in the US have registered for unemployment benefits in a matter of weeks. Here in South Africa, large local companies are laying off workers as the economic realities brought about by the pandemic take root. This is not anyone’s fault.
This is the economic reality that confronts the world today. And if we are going to stand any chance of personal survival, we need to come to terms with the fact that the world as we knew it has changed. We will not find solutions for our current problems by relying on what worked in the past. Now is the time for innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives. Buying local and supporting small businesses will contribute to rebuilding the economy. Regional cooperation with our neighbours will provide new commercial opportunities.
Moving down from Level 5 to Level 3 does not mean that we have conquered the virus. All it means is that the government has done about as much as it can to prepare the health services for the inevitable onslaught on our health resources. For the past two months, there has been a huge investment to educate the population about the scourge of the coronavirus. We all know the basics. The rest is really now up to every individual to take personal responsibility. We cannot allow the pandemic to get us down. And even as we maintain physical distancing protocols we will find new ways of expressing our social solidarity. We have to believe that as a country we will prevail. DM
The writer of this series of articles has asked to remain anonymous. While we always prefer to publish op-ed pieces under a person’s name, we feel this message is important.
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