Chinese lessons on combating Covid-19 remains relevant, smoking is harmful

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Goebbelism as a form of propaganda continues to plague our national discourse even during these times of Covid19 when thousands of lives are at risk.

If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself, Goebbels had promoted.

Another form of this Goebbelism is certainly to throw as much mud as possible and hope that some will stick. 

The unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks on the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is based on Goebbelism and nothing else. 

Never mind that it is, quite frankly, ridiculous to paint Dr Dlamini-Zuma as some sort of conspirator trying to undermine the legal sale of cigarettes and promoting the sale of illicit cigarettes, it is also wholly irrational to target her and her alone in a decision made by the entire cabinet. 

Even more so is the suggestion that the ban on the sale of cigarettes is an unscientific one and while some may have made the effort to do some research and point out the opinion of scientists in this regard, the same amount of literature promoting the ban of the sale of cigarettes can also be found. 

Take for example the ‘Allergy’ journal article written by Zhang et al. titled ‘Clinical characteristics of 140 patients infected with SARS-CoV 2 in Wuhan, China’ and published on 19 February 2020. Zhang and his peers engaged in a systematic review of cases of Covid-19 and found that the most serious cases of Covid19 were likely to be smokers. 

This article specifically found that smoking caused continuous inflammation of the respiratory system, weakened the lungs, damaged the alveoli walls and hampered their capacity to absorb oxygen and, if suffering from asthma, drastically increased attacks. 

Those smoking and those who had quit smoking recently, in China, were found to be at higher risk to developing acute symptoms of Covid19 and needed more medical attention, in ICU and on ventilators, according to a journal article by Guan et al. The article by Guan et al. was published in ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’, dated 28 February 2020 and is titled: ‘Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus 2019 in China.’

However, if you do not trust the Chinese, then American researchers reported on 12 May 2020 that “…smoking significantly worsened COVID-19, according to a new analysis by UC San Francisco of the association between smoking and progression of the infectious disease…”. 

The University of California research stated that of the “…11 590 COVID patients, researchers found that among people with the virus, the risk of disease progression in those who currently smoke or previously smoked was nearly double that of non-smokers…” 

If you do not trust the Chinese or the Americans, then the Science Medical Centre on their website report that locum general practitioner and honorary clinic lecturer at Warwick Medical School, Dr James Gill, states that “…smoking is a significant risk factor for coronavirus infections and, in fact, infections generally. There are many interlocking factors as to why smoking reduces the body’s ability to fight infection – from the ability to get oxygen from the blood to tissues, through to the increased levels of carbon monoxide in the blood.”

One could go on and on quoting various sources substantiating the science of the cabinet’s decision to ban the sale of cigarettes. Just as those who wish to refute the argument used by the government could also quote and quote from science journals and medical professionals. 

The reality is that government’s deep concern, as was and is the concern of governments across the globe, is the limitations of health systems to responding the influx of patients needing treatment for Covid-19 related complications. 

As we have seen the most developed countries across the world, the USA and China included, struggle with this limitation in health systems whether private or public, their and our main focus was to “flatten the curve”, meaning preventing a spike in infections, and to mitigate factors that would lead to Covid19 complications. 

Yet in any war, the truth is always the first victim and we are at war against Covid-19. The truth about government’s intentions has been questioned and regrettably been questioned, once again, not based on scientific reasoning but in the main through throwing around mud. 

As for those who leak information from the highest decision making body in our democratic government, cabinet meetings, their conduct poses a serious threat to our country and exposes their allegiance and credibility. 

We must ensure that we do not repeat the lie that says the government is out to impose irrational measures on South Africans. Rather it is important to remember that the national executive is informed based on science and will take decisions aimed at only one thing: saving lives. 

Nomvula Mokonyane is a Member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC and former cabinet minister.