AS THE COUNTRY prepares for what appears to be an unprecedented lock-down, following the declaration of a national disaster over a week ago, the authorities continue to bungle the epidemic.
Granted a lot has changed since we reported on the failure to close borders to European red zones, our obsession with Wuhan repatriation, and the problematic roll-out of posters with a case definition which excluded the possibility of community transmission.
Since then, our President announced broad-ranging and sweeping measures to contain the spread of the virus, including the shutting of ports and harbours, limitations on groups of more than 100 individuals, the introduction of a drinking curfew and other draconian measures, none of which tackle the central problem that this is a single–stranded, positive-sense RNA virus which hijacks the body in order to synthesise the proteins required to reproduce itself.
Instead of announcing a colloquium or symposium to collect the prevailing scientific and evidence-based research needed to make informed decisions, our government has simply launched the country into a series of drastic actions and interventions via presidential decree, albeit informed by World Health Organisation officials in Geneva.
One action announced on Monday is an unprecedented shelter-in-place directive, in other words a national lock-down, which will require all citizens except those in exempt categories, to stay home for 21 days. A similar order during the epidemic in Wuhan, essentially voluntary self-quarantining, and also currently in the USA, and elsewhere, has had limited success, and will in all likelihood fail.
The measure to use the parlance of the WHO ‘merely buys time‘.
To put this another way, if we simply suppress the virus, it will just come back once we end our lock-down, and the exponential spike we are all hoping to avoid now, will come back in May or July, especially since the virus is more active during Winter.
Public health officials hope that these steps will act to ‘flatten the curve’, but as this video shows, doing so at the wrong time, may risk the situation where the other half of the population will still go on to get the illness.
We can’t go into another lockdown after this one, and the sheer impact upon the economy is causing reverberations and jitters around the continent. While a raft of measures were announced to mitigate the impact on sectors such as the Hospitality industry, the sheer numbers of people affected make life incredibly difficult for scenario planners.
So what are we not doing that we should be doing?
Avoiding crude measures such as mass quarantines and instead relying upon big data as Taiwan and Singapore have done, to manage the spread of the virus, is certainly more preferable.
Creating acceptable risks by rapidly introducing antiviral treatments which act to reduce viral production within the body and thereby infection, transmission and mortality is another option of managing the problem. (To date over a 100 compounds have been identified by computational methods, a veritable Manhattan Project).
Realising that we have an incredible advantage when it comes to data processing that previous generations and pandemics lacked is crucial to the outcome of the crisis.
Cutting the red-tape that prevents the repurposing and redeployment of antiviral medication to fight the virus is going to determine whether or not we win this one.
It is unthinkable that we live in an age of germ-destroying ‘disinfection robots’, artificial intelligence and the sudden re-emergence of the cordon sanitaire, long considered a throwback to the Middle Ages.
Extending force magnification measures already in place such as tele-medicine to virtual visits during the epidemic could assist an overstretched public health system in reaching out to patients in the absence of transport.
Extending drone delivery of blood samples to delivery of medication and home diagnostic kits also could save lives.
Correcting mistakes with health communication by acknowledging the evolving symptoms and vectors of the epidemic as the City of Cape Town has done, is just a start.
So too would be correcting the comparison often made here with the flu.
The Coronovirus is related to the common cold, in essence a Zoonotic Cold or Respiratory Illness from Bats and Pangolins, and has struck down normally healthy youngsters who form some 10% of those in ICU, as well as the aged.
The reason why some people end up in ICU with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) while others get away with mild symptoms is not well understood and may have something to do with previous exposure to coronoviruses and the presence or absence of antibodies.
In the near absence of universal testing, (SA will only able to do 30 000 tests a day by mid April) temperature screening of fever suspects at public gatherings, might eliminate super-spreaders, and also buy us more time. Enough time until we are able to roll-out a universal vaccine and immunisation campaign.
To date, South Africa has yet to announce a local vaccine candidate or drug trial.
FOR MANY Gen-Xers, born during the twentieth century, the prospect of a world free of epidemics and disease has proven an alluring chimera. Instead of marshalling our efforts on developing a vaccine for SARS (2003), our fragile world got caught by the perfect storm.
Millennials who grew up enjoying the benefits of ‘herd immunity’, mass immunisation programmes and inoculations from previous generations, turned into pundits of anti-vaccine conspiracy, as measles returned, and the SARS virus came back 17 years later, with a more infectious sister-clade. SARS-Cov-2, (let’s just call it SARS2?)
The past weeks saw the world wake to a living hell, an episode straight out of World War Z and the Zombie Apocalypse. The exact same economic scenarios depicted by modellers shortly after the first SARS epidemic. One depicts a world economy during a period 2002-2081 in total decline as a result of social distancing and quarantines.
After a long global boom period in which the bulls outweighed the bears, we woke to extreme volatility, unprecedented in financial history, and the prospect that the COVID-19 epidemic could be with us for years to come, anywhere from 18-24 months.
The problem is that without a working phase 2 vaccine and mass immunisation programme we are stuck in quarantine mode, a crude method of containment no different from measures taken during Ancient times.
Containment is likely to suppress the virus, but it looks set to come back in waves if we do nothing. China is currently experiencing imported infections. The cure may turn out to be worse than the disease. Is this how freedom dies, asked one online pundit?
Normality must be restored, and freedom can only repaired via immunisation programmes that default in favour of those who are vaccinated, protecting the rights of the free, versus the rights of those who simply wish us to return to Bible Ages. Whither the Anti-Vax movement?
Should vaccines be mandatory?
Who decides and how do we move away from a slippery slope which is surely contrary to human rights such as the right to bodily integrity, a pillar central to our Constitution?
What about the right to die?
Do we have the right to become infected?
The previous HIV epidemic should guide us. Nobody was ever arrested for getting HIV, but many people in various countries have been prosecuted for seeking to infect others.
Shutting down our free and open societies can only ever be considered a stop-gap measure until a working vaccine arrives. Or as one online hack put it, ‘its only quarantine if its from the French province of Quarantine, everything else is just sparkling isolation.’
Introducing curfews and restrictions on mass meetings and movement can only ever be temporary. Restrictions under Disaster and Emergency legislation, all have limitations.
There must be a Constitutional timeline and guarantee from our government that our liberty will be restored.
Unless we do this, we are no different from any totalitarian state.
FOR THE first SARS pandemic in 2003, scientists estimated the original R0 to be around 2.75. A month or two later, the effective R0 dropped below 1, thanks to the tremendous effort that went into intervention strategies, including isolation and quarantine activities.
Scientists use R0 – the reproduction number – to describe the intensity of an infectious disease outbreak. R0 estimates have been an important part of characterizing pandemics or large publicized outbreaks, including the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. ‘It’s something epidemiologists are racing to nail down about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.’
Since SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a sister clade of SARS, it is extremely useful to simply refer to the bug as SARS2. In fact much of what was learnt during the first epidemic should be applied to the latest outbreak. For example, SARS was transmissible via respiratory and bodily fluid. Until evidence is provided to the contrary, one must assume this to also be the case with SARS2.
In the 1950s, epidemiologist George MacDonald suggested using R0 to describe the transmission potential of malaria. He proposed that, if R0 is less than 1, the disease will die out in a population, because on average an infectious person will transmit to fewer than one other susceptible person. On the other hand, if R0 is greater than 1, the disease will spread.
When public health agencies are figuring out how to deal with an outbreak, they are trying to bring R0 down to less than 1. This is tough for diseases that have a high R0.
When SARS2 arrived, it was assumed the R0 was similar to the previous epidemics. Initially SARS2, the novel coronovirus, was spreading within a range of 2.2 to 2.7 then it shot up to 4.7 – 6.6
This places it in the realm of Smallpox which has an R0 of 5–7.
You can read more on How Scientists Quantify the Intensity of an Outbreak Like COVID-19
Coronavirus: Simple statistical predictions for South Africa
AS SOUTH AFRICA continues to struggle to ramp up basic testing for COVID-19, experts at the World Health Organization on Monday emphasized that countries should prioritize such testing— and that social-distancing measures are not enough.
“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (aka Dr. Tedros) said in a press briefing March 16.
Dr. Tedros noted that, as the numbers of cases and deaths outside of China have quickly risen, many countries—including the US—have urgently adopted so-called social-distancing measures, such as shuttering schools, canceling events, and having people work from home. While these measures can slow transmission and allow health care systems to better cope, they are “not enough to extinguish this pandemic,” Dr. Tedros warned.
What’s needed is a comprehensive approach, he said. “But we have not seen an urgent-enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” Dr. Tedros said.
“The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission,” he went on. “And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”
AN OP-ED in today’s Business Report asks the question: ‘is it time to see Koos Bekker in an orange suit?’ Sizwe Dlamini writes, “Naspers and Media24, by their own admission, were responsible for actively supporting the apartheid government. Naspers benefited by receiving textbook contracts as well as television licenses in exchange for hiding from the South African public the atrocities and destruction which the apartheid government put black people through. We know that these executives, along with their friends during apartheid, stole tens of billions from South Africans. This is fraud and corruption on a scale, which is far greater than that which Basson refers to.’
‘The ultimate irony of the new South Africa is that Naspers remains the largest dominant media company – the apartheid era from propaganda remains the dominant propaganda machine today. No other country or society in the world would have ever allowed a business such as Naspers, which was wholly complicit in apartheid-era crime and corruption, to exist today.’
Dlamini’s piece fails to mention Naspers opposition to the TRC, Naspers corruption and unlawful capture of the Labour Court and as a result the High Court. Naspers fraudulent and unlawful race-based 2010 inquiry into my own Secular Jewish identity and also repugnant interrogation of my struggle history, Naspers and its relationship to Remgro, and the questionable post-Codesa purchase of Kagiso and the resulting pathetic racist media cartel which runs a significant portion of SA media at the behest of apartheid bosses Bekker, Moolman, Rupert and Vosloo.
IT WAS during the dying days of apartheid, that I wrote a series of articles promoting ‘ecological sustainable development’ and deep ecology. The pieces published by Grassroots and South Press were extraordinary, the least of which is that they were published by a working class imprint shortly after the state of emergency.
They dovetailed my criticism of race-based conservation efforts by elements within the regime, for example the Rupert Family, and addressed perceptions that the emergent environmental justice movement in the country was, to put it crudely, an all-white affair.
The result was the ‘First National Conference on Environment and Development’, in which academics and activists from all quarters joined hands on a broad eco-justice platform which included both the ANC and PAC, and which resulted in the placing of Earth Rights at the centre of our Constitution, in the form of article 24.
Today’s political pundits Carilee Osborne and Bruce Baigrie , conveniently ignore the history of environmentalism in South Africa, preferring to situate their respective struggles within the contemporary milieu of the Climate Strike — the recent Cape Town March which saw some 2500 people from various organisations and civic structures take to the streets in what they view “as one of the largest environmental protest actions in South Africa’s history.”
This is no mean feet and without wishing to downplay the successes of these epic events during the course of the past year, one should always remember that the environmental justice movement arose as a foundation stone of our Constitution during a period of mass democratic action, the likes of which have yet to be repeated. And thus a struggle which was situated not upon my own writings, nor the writings of any one particular individual, but rather the Freedom Charter, which (within the colour of the time) called upon people black and white, to “save the soil”, whilst sharing the land, and assisting the tillers of the land.
A similar mistake in historical proportion and misreading of history occurs within the various articles penned by one Farieda Khan. She writes in “Environmentalism in South Africa: A Sociopolitical Perspective”, (an otherwise excellent paper written over the turn of the millennium): “The first extra-parliamentary political organization to commit to a formal environmental policy was the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (the South African front organization for the then-banned African National Congress).” She goes on to state: “The Call of Islam had a formal environmental policy since its inception in 1984, due in large measure to the efforts of its founder, Moulana Faried Esack.”
If only history were so convenient as to claim environmentalism on behalf of any one religion or individual, whether Islam, or the Church, as many within SAFCEI and SACC would have it, or on behalf of one or more important groups or class formations formulated by those on the left, as those within AIDC would have us believe.
Rather, I think it more accurate and best to take a broader arc of history — one that includes the Freedom Charter and reaches forward to the essential humanism espoused by the deep ecology movement of the 1970s, whose distinguishing and original characteristics are its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings: “Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans.” And by extension, as much of my writing and published work from the 1980s suggested, an African environmentalism which realises that Ubuntu is not simply being human because we are all human, but rather, a common humanity contingent upon the necessary existence of our habitat, without which we could not exist as a species.
Instead of situating the environmental movement within so-called ‘working class’ struggles, or working class factions as Osborne and Baigrie attempt in “Towards a working-class environmentalism for South Africa”, and thus the binary of a grand populism vs narrow neoliberalism which simply perpetuates the idea of man’s dominion over nature and thus a struggle which of necessity is juxtaposed alongside the authoritarian grip of party politics, another path must be found.
It is all too easy to issue anti-capitalist prescriptions, leftist directives and cadre-based imperatives calling for the end of free markets whilst, forgetting that it is Eskom’s captive market, Eskom’s socialist ambitions, and Eskom’s coal barons which have pushed South Africa ahead of the UK in terms of GHG emissions, a country with 10-15 million more people. Although only the 33rd largest economy, South Africa is the 14th largest GHG in the world. Our national energy provider, Eskom has yet to adopt GHG emissions targets.
All the result of the boardroom compromises of the statist, authoritarian left, whose policies have seen our country embrace ‘peak, plateau and decline’ alongside a COP-out strategy excluding South Africa from the Paris Agreement, and thus a national environmental policy which is not based upon empirical science and evidence-based research but rather class driven kragdadigheid and Big Coal.
If those on the far left expect us all to reject secular humanist values alongside Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess who introduced the phrase “deep ecology” and thus an environmentalism which emerged as a popular grassroots political movement in the 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, simply because these persons are lily-white, or tainted by the liberal economics of the West, then they are sorely mistaken.
Instead, I believe, that it is far better to formulate an African-centred response, and rather a Pan-African struggle which is broad-based and inclusive of our collective humanity and common habitat. Such a broad-based struggle out of necessity includes an African-Centered Ecophilosophy and Political Ecology.The draft Climate Justice Charter is one such vehicle and deserves our full support.
The struggle for survival during the collapse of the Holocene, includes those already involved in conservation and preservation efforts and those who now join because of concerns about the detrimental impact of modern industrial technology. When one talks about climate justice we thus need to include the voices of those who have not been given an opportunity to speak, and remember that without mass mobilisation, nothing would have changed during apartheid.
READERS may be reminded of one Terry Bell, a columnist for News24 and his hokey reference to the ‘Second Industrial Revolution” (2IR). Medialternatives took Bell to task for suggesting we were all about to enter, wait for it, the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, this sometime in 2015. And that’s from a company which attempted to gag and silence me, and when they could’t achieve that, they corruptly bought a decision in the labour court of South Africa effectively trashing the TRC Act and Preamble to our Constitution.
Well, this morning I read another equally galling piece by Sarah Gravitt published by the Mail & Guardian, blithely suggesting alongside so many google addicted learners, that none other than Davos founder, the German economist Klaus Schwab was the brains behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Readers may therefore be interested to gain some insight into the controversy between Jeremy Rifkin and Schwab. Rifkin is an erudite futurist whose various books on economics, and labour have painted a picture of essentially a ‘third industrialisation’ only to have Schwab rebrand most of the central thesis touted by Rikfin in his books, as a “Fourth Industrialisation’.
A shout out to visionaries such as Alvin Toffler whose prescient writing on the ‘Third Wave’ predate both Rifkin and Schwab.
For all its pitfalls, I agree with those who suggest the term 4IR is a convenient way of talking about where we are now, especially when it comes to the impact of technologies such as AI, augmented and blended reality, and most obviously when their capacity for exponential improvement in human progress is concerned. The distinction between third and fourth industrialisations is of little significance when the overall pattern of industrialisation is considered, but will no doubt make for much academic tinkering. In fact one can pretty much guarantee that some pundit will propose a fifth industrial revolution in five years time, in the same way web 2.0 begat web 3.0 ad infinitum.
And it won’t matter which conferences you attend, or which degree you have, so long as somebody is making money out of selling you on the idea.
Rifkin writes: “Professor Schwab introduced the theme in a lengthy essay published in Foreign Affairs in December 2015. He argues that we are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that will fundamentally change the way we work and live in the coming decades. Much of the essay’s text eloquently describes the vast technological changes brought on by the digitalization of economic and social life and its disruptive impact on conventional business practices and social norms. I don’t disagree. Where I take exception is with Professor Schwab’s suggestion that these initiatives represent a Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
For my part, I tend to believe that we are approaching a singularity in which the term ‘industrial revolution’ will cease to have any significance so far as economics is concerned. The post-human epoch, predicated as it is on technological prowess on the one hand, and species extinction on the other, will most certainly lead to the demise of humans in their current form, but this is a debate for another time.
Readers may therefore wish to review my 2018 piece on the End of the Anthropocene.
And caveat emptor to all those wising to steal the singularity.