Ralph Mathekga

Ralph Mathekga | Coronavirus: countries are outdoing each other in panicking

2020-03-17 10:09
Consumers stocking up on food items at a Makro store in Johannesburg. (Gallo Images, ER Lombard)

Consumers stocking up on food items at a Makro store in Johannesburg. (Gallo Images, ER Lombard)

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In moments such as these, reasons and reasonableness are the first casualties out of the window while panic and public pressure dictate responses, writes Ralph Mathekga.


The outbreak of the coronavirus has brought the world to an unprecedented lock-down; with countries taking measures aimed at protecting their citizens.

The panic that has arisen since the announcement of the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China, is palpable.

Looking at the way in which countries have been responding to the crisis thus far, governments are running for cover trying to assure their people that a stern course of action is necessary to address the looming disaster.

Given the scale of the problem, it is understandable why most countries activated their disaster management laws so that they can be able to coordinate national responses.    

There is peer pressure on the side of individual governments to be seen to be acting decisively to assure local populations that someone is in charge.

Some earlier measures that have been undertaken involve travel bans from countries that are recording higher levels of infections.

Targeted travel bans were announced by the US government, followed by other countries including Rwanda.

Looking at the pattern in which countries are responding to this challenge, it is clearly everyone for themselves.

So far, the responses to curtail the spread of the virus has been a unilateral approach, whereby countries take individual decisions to ban travelling from what can be considered virus hotspots. 

South Africa has also responded by imposing some internal regulatory measures including banning unnecessary public gatherings.

Further, President Ramaphosa's administration was clearly under pressure to go all out and match the global response by banning travelling from some European countries hit by the coronavirus as well as from China, the US, and Iran.

Travel bans are the best way to begin to isolate the spread of the virus and they offer the best opportunity to understand its pattern of spreading.  

However, the travel bans implemented by various countries so far seem to be uncoordinated.

The bans are generally unilateral decisions by individual governments, and they seem to be based largely on the discretion of an individual country, instead of being thought about scientifically and coordinated across different regions to ensure optimum impacts on the spread of the virus.  

It is difficult to focus on deeper implications when dealing with something that has caused as much panic as the coronavirus.

In moments such as these, reason and reasonableness are the first casualties out of the window while panic and public pressure dictate responses.

The main talking point in the past few days has been about whose measures are more drastic.

Countries are outdoing each other in panicking; and government responses emerging across the world show exactly what happens if everyone blames everyone else for the scourge of the virus. 

The world's biggest supply chain office, China, is already addressing criticisms that the virus originated from Wuhan.  

No one knows what the future looks like as far as the spread and the impact of the coronavirus is concerned.

However, there is no doubt that we will be impacted across the globe.

The reality of this virus and its socio-economic impacts require a globally coordinated response.

Unfortunately, the virus found global politics to be dominated by unilateralism: it's my way or the highway.

Even worse, the coronavirus will expose our lack of empathy to the other and willingness to work together as a global community to address this.  

At the end of the day, and whoever survives the virus, there is still the need for the world to carry on and the recovery process requires a coordinated global response bigger than what we can imagine.

The first things after the virus is to restore diplomatic relations that suffered with the outbreak of the virus.

This requires multilateral cooperation.

Anything short of that would restrain any recovery efforts from the virus, the outbreak of which exposed weaknesses in global solidarity.   

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn. 


Read more on:    coronavirus  |  pandemic
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