IT MUST strike readers as incredibly ironic, that a virus whose origin is China, has resulted in formerly free and open economies, closing shop and placing their markets in hibernation mode. Most economies including South Africa, UK, USA, France, Italy and Australia have implemented lock-downs and restrictions on movement and travel, with our own country choosing a ‘hard lockdown’.
Last night Professor Salim Abdool Karim outlined the events which have resulted in a low mortality rate and rate of infection (R0). Our country is not alone in this regard with New Zealand reporting similar outcomes, but unlike most experts who attribute the sterling results to the hard lockdown, Professor Karim was at pains to explain that the data needs to be ‘corrected by a fortnight’, or 14 days, to account for incubation, and therefore the elbow in the curve of infection which begins on the very day of the lock-down, is more likely the result of what had happened two weeks previously, in other words, the initial measures taken when our President announced the National State of Disaster, closing our borders, implementing social distancing and hand sanitation measures.
Several news articles rushed to misquote Professor Karim and did not carry his own interpretation of the data which he had presented. There is currently no evidence that the hard lockdown has done anything more to curb the spread of the virus, than closing our borders and tracing infections, and may turn out to be a case of Fear of Being Left Behind. However South Africa will know on 18 April if the countries fight against the coronovirus is inaccurate or factually correct.
Karim explains: “SA’s Covid-19 trajectory is unique, because unlike most other countries, it did not see an exponential increase in cases after its first 100 cases. The most likely explanation was that the country had seen three epidemics: one among travellers, a second among their contacts and a third epidemic of community transmission. By the time the lockdown began on March 26, the first two epidemics had largely burnt out, and community transmission was not occurring at a significant level,”
Nevertheless there was open speculation by yesterday’s panel on what would come next. According to the Professor, South Africa is doomed to experience a ‘delayed exponential curve‘ once the lockdown ends since the period had simply bought time, and thus various criteria for coming out of lockdown were elaborated including a suggestion that the elderly continue a voluntary lockdown until at least September.
He also outlined various measures to deal with potential hotspots, the ‘small brush fires that must be contained to avoid raging fires’. In theory a lockdown like self-quarantine creates dead-ends for infection, but so do many other measures. None of what he said is indicative of why an approach as that followed by South Korea was not considered nor whether a smart lockdown would have been better for our economy?
South Korea appears to have reined in the outbreak without some of the strict lock-down strategies deployed elsewhere in the world, while Sweden is showing data not all that different from countries which had delayed lock-down strategies.
Needless to say, the Department of Health must be commended for its proactive steps in regard to testing and lowering the threshold of surveillance of the disease , so too the unprecedented sharing of information and data as seen during last nights televised presentation. But there are many questions which remain unanswered.
The brutality and callousness with which the hard lockdown restrictions in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) have been implemented by SAPS and SANDF over the past two weeks have taken many citizens by surprise. There are those who would have preferred a ‘smart lockdown’, as well as a growing list of virologists and medical authorities who question the efficacy of introducing steps which show little scientific merit, for example banishing citizens from the great outdoors in a respiratory disease epidemic where ‘fresh air may also save lives’. In this case the cure may be worse than the disease.
The economic fallout and risk of mass starvation and worse total meltdown, certainly needs to be weighed against any purported public health objectives moving forward. It is also questionable whether the DMA promulgated as it was, to deal with natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes is fit for purpose when it comes to a public health emergency.
Given the low mortality and infection rate, it is unclear whether the current health emergency, indeed fits the description of a national disaster if at all.
Witness images of SAPS and SANDF trashing traditional beer stills and confiscating meat poitjies, effecting arbitrary arrests of joggers and dog-walkers whilst gangs of youths go free. The erection of concentration camps for the homeless, acts of arbitrary punishment and some 9 deaths and counting at the hands of the authorities, including the beating to death of an Alexandra resident, found with a bottle of beer inside his own home.
It is not too late to address those measures which have worked, the massive hand sanitation campaign, social distancing measures and adoption of face masks, while taking a long and hard look at those steps which appear to be little more than a brazen excuse by authoritarians to exert social control over the population.