Ralph Mathekga

Ralph Mathekga: Ending SA's Covid-19 lockdown too soon 'will be a death warrant for many'

2020-04-07 13:04
Police Minister Bheki Cele addresses members of the South African Police Service at a parade at 35 Squadron in Cape Town after government declared a 21 day Covid-19 lockdown. (Gallo Images)

Police Minister Bheki Cele addresses members of the South African Police Service at a parade at 35 Squadron in Cape Town after government declared a 21 day Covid-19 lockdown. (Gallo Images)

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If we succeed in containing the virus in the 21-day period, the only way for us to protect the gains we would have made, is to retain some restrictions while relaxing others, writes Ralph Mathekga.


As South Africa is pushing through the second week of the national lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, public anxiety is on the increase about what will happen once the 21-day period is over.

I have seen a few newspaper reports hinting at the possible extension of the lockdown beyond 21 days. I have heard a few people asking whether it is truth that government might extend the lockdown.

The answer I have given is that I don't know. Government will have to make the call based on what would have come out of the 21 days.

Given what we have seen in countries that have taken tougher lockdown measures (e.g. China), South Africa will not totally suspend all movement restrictions after the 21-day period has lapsed. Some restrictions will have to be maintained even after the initial lockdown period has ended.

If the spread of the novel coronavirus is contained, restrictions will have to be relaxed to allow people to return to some level of normality. No government will deliberately keep people under strict rules if the threat of the virus has been contained.

Forget about those tough-talking, press conference-loving politicians who seem to be enjoying reminding everyone who is in charge now. The reality is that the dire state of the economy demands that we return to normality as soon as possible.

That return to normality to get the economy functioning should, however, be balanced with the sound scientific determination showing that the virus is no longer an imminent threat. It has been a challenge for the majority of South Africans who found themselves having to go into a lockdown which they clearly were not economically prepared for.

It has exposed the level of inequality among us. It is because of the coronavirus that we are confronted with the reality that a worrying number of South Africans do not have decent homes in which they can survive the lockdown.

The socio-economic challenges in our societies (across the globe) has been laid bare by this pandemic. I believe that not even the most heartless politicians would want to see the people enduring the lockdown under these humiliating conditions.

SA should not expect life to return to normal

However, the truth is that no country has come out of a lockdown "cold turkey", even if the lockdown was successful.

Logic dictates that despite all the social and economic frustrations South Africans are experiencing under the lockdown, they should not expect life to return to normal after the 21 days, irrespective of whether we succeed in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

If we succeed in containing the virus in the 21-day period, the only way for us to protect the gains we would have made, is to retain some restrictions while relaxing others.

If we fail to control the spread of the virus during the lockdown, we must maintain the lockdown or even impose tougher restrictions than we have done before. Anything short of this will be signing a death warrant for many.

South Africans will have to accept just like the rest of the world that life will never be the same after the 21-day lockdown. We have no reset button, we can only scale things down or up.

Most of the restrictions on movements adopted by governments will be part of life for the foreseeable future. South Africans enjoy a good party and we are a nation that enjoys gatherings.

Our politics and the society in general are quite dynamic, and large gatherings are part of who we are. We are social creatures. This is one of the reasons why social distancing is a challenge. There are those who even threw parties to celebrate the beginning of the lockdown.

I have news for my fellow South Africans who enjoy throwing a party or two: you may not be allowed to throw a party to celebrate the end of the lockdown after 21 days because large gatherings might remain prohibited, and rightfully so!

This is still the best-case scenario where we would have contained the spread of the virus.

Read more on:    coronavirus  |  health  |  lockdown
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