BANTU MNIKI | Defining moment in history needs whole world fighting together

Image: 123RF/lightwise

We are going through a significant moment in history. The final toll of the moment cannot be fully known at this time. However, there is a great likelihood that things may never be the same after the current global outbreak of Covid-19.

On March 11 2020, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. In so doing it called on all governments and every sector to get involved in the fight against the disease.

“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his address beamed across the globe.

The call was clear and required action from each country and each individual. The bright prospect in all this address was the belief that the spread of Covid-19 can be contained, as demonstrated by countries that took immediate action against the virus. In China, where the Covid-19 infection originated, the spread seems to have been contained through the drastic actions taken by the government  to limit transmission.

On Sunday President Cyril Ramaphosa made sweeping announcements to the country, labelling the Covid-19 infection a national crisis. At that moment, there were 61 confirmed cases of coronavirus and internal transmission was part of those new infections. Travel bans between SA and certain affected countries, limits on public gatherings, early closure of schools and other seemingly drastic measures were announced. There is no doubt that these decisions were not easy to make considering the economic problems we are facing as a country.

However, considering the seriousness of this outbreak, the decisiveness of the government must be appreciated. The only chance we have to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak is by avoiding widespread transmission. Clearly, our entire health care system is incapable of dealing with a widespread outbreak. The vulnerability of our less affluent citizens, who live in poverty, in congested and sometimes very unsanitary conditions, is too ghastly to contemplate. Our public transport system, which is virtually incapable of avoiding congestion, is no better.

We have to take the recommendations of health officials and the WHO seriously by doing everything necessary to limit transmission. To do this we will need to give out as much relevant information as possible. This is why the call by traditional leaders for the government to use all official languages in their communication about the coronavirus is extremely important. It may be easier for our more affluent citizens to adapt to the requisite behaviours than it will be for our less affluent and often more traditional citizens. This is where most education and awareness needs to go.

If there was ever a time for our nation to pull together with sanity and calm resolve, it is now.

Any citizen who can spread the message must do so as much as possible to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. Avoiding handshakes, hugs and kisses, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or inner elbow, keeping the distance from people with flu symptoms, washing hands with soap and water regularly are all measures which must be quickly normalised. Avoiding touching the face, mouth and eyes, cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, avoiding unnecessary travel and staying at home when feeling sick, are all measures we must observe and constantly talk about. Change of behaviour is what we need to achieve here, and all methods we know which can aid in the rapid change of behaviour need to be deployed immediately.

However, another most important measure besides education and awareness is the issue of quick and easy testing. Considering that early detection offers the best chance of treatment and recovery, this is invaluable. While we know that when we display any symptoms, such as fever, dry persistent cough, headache, runny nose, and breathing difficulties we should go to the doctor, not everyone will be able to do this. It would be better to find some alternative method of testing so we could limit the chances of going for costly tests because of a normal cold. It would, therefore, be of great value if test kits could be made available in most health centers to weed out those who do not need further attention and treatment for Covid-19 sooner.

If there was ever a time for our nation to pull together with sanity and calm resolve, it is now. Covid-19 has become the common enemy against which all South Africans must fight. That fight is pertinent and perhaps our greatest fight yet.