Coronascam : How to waste millions by pretending to be humanitarian

People walk past a convenient store where the latest cover of a magazine is stuck on a pillar outside of it on Sunday, March 15, 2020, in New York. President Donald Trump on Sunday called on Americans to cease hoarding groceries and other supplies, while one of the nation's most senior public health officials called on the nation to act with more urgency to safeguard their health as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread across the United States. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

While we persist in failing to properly provide basic services needed by all South Africans, we continue to waste money on fanciful and useless projects.  Our President seems to enjoy escaping the grimy realities of our routine administrative chaos,  into fantasies of smart cities, super-highways and other minor science fiction.

But now we have the Great Hunan Rescue Mission, costing mysterious millions ( at least R 25 million according to one estimate though the full cost has not been disclosed ). This useless expenditure is not in response to any demand expressed by the people of South Africa, and will have no imaginable benefit to us. There is no sensible medical or epidemiological justification for this peculiar spending.   

Someone in government seems to have grown inexplicably bothered about this particular group of South Africans who, presumably in response to potential personal profit, has chosen to travel to Hunan, China, to study or work.  They have, along with millions of others in that country,  found themselves stuck within the tedious but apparently effective quarantine restrictions the Chinese government set up to combat the spread of the Covid virus.

Over 200 were identified and offered repatriation, and 151 were selected to be brought back, at our expense.  Apparently some chose not to return, for reasons not disclosed.  Along with un-named officials of unknown value, a medical team was sent to accompany them, though the group are healthy and apparently not infected. We’re told the team would screen them for the virus before and during the flight.  I wonder how ?  Apart from taking their temperature and asking how they feel, t here can be no facilities for path testing, X-rays, or any other genuine diagnostic testing. Will this be a sham screening, to make the exercise look serious ?  What we have been told makes no genuine medical sense.

Then they were taken to a sumptuous 4-star hotel to be kept comfortably in quarantine, along with the air crew and government officials who accompanied them, housed and fed at public expense. Other civilian guests have been told to go elsewhere, and staff placed on leave. I wonder who will replace these staff to care for the special guests ?  It’s reported they will be guarded by the Army and police, with road-blocks on the public roads. Why ? Will we really use troops to surround a hotel ? To keep these privileged travelers in,  or to keep others out ?

Why are we spending national treasure on one group of South Africans in one foreign city ? Do they contain relatives of politically influential people, perhaps ?  We know there are many other South Africans similarly stranded in China,  and surely also in Iran, Korea, and Italy, let alone elsewhere.  Why don’t they count, and why is there apparently no State interest in helping them ?  When these folks chose to go to work abroad, did they not take out valid travel or other insurance ?  And if not, why not ?  Should they not be responsible for all or some of these expenses ? 

The comments Health Minister Mkhise has made are somewhat puzzling.  He refers to the repatriation as “a matter of extreme urgency.”  Why ?  None of the people were sick or likely to become sick or to be seriously affected. So, what was so urgent ? Curious statements were made : at a press conference the Minister said that “ if it meant spending money to save South Africans“ it would be done, so that “at the end of the day, we will go back and say we did save one South African, whatever the cost was”.  But what are these perfectly healthy South Africans being saved from ? And at a large cost which could save real lives if applied to basic primary care health, and to South Africans now infected by the virus ? 

He described the mission as humanitarian, though admitting that the group were being well treated in China, but “because they had raised concerns that they would rather be home” than in quarantine in Hunan.  Oh the tragedy of these poor little people !  How many thousands of South Africans, studying or working abroad, have had times when they’d rather be home at a braai ?  How many of those were elaborately repatriated at public expense for such empty sentimental reasons ? 

Very peculiarly, he insisted that the “evacuation” was part of our contribution to fighting the virus !  It is scientifically and logically impossible to understand how this could possibly be considered true. It is absolutely certain that not a single virus will be harmed by the evacuation.

Tragically, in South Africa, corruption is more than a carefully protected way of life for many ; it could be argued that it’s our true National Sport.  If only it could be introduced as an Olympic Event, we could expect to win Gold, and Silver medals. 

There’s just something significantly not right about this whole affair. The evacuation of people in no danger whatsoever, at high public cost, accompanied by so much window-dressing, virtue-signalling, and absurd explanations, is not something we should just tamely accept.  These things are not what they are trying to seem to be.  What’s really going on ?

Professor Michael Simpson is a South African psychiatrist who qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain.