Home alone 2020

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South Africa - Cape Town - 24 March 2020 - Beauty Mjethu sells the Big Issue next to the billboard. She says nobody is buying her magazines anymore. A large billboard has been erected at the top of Long Street, asking people to stay indoors to stop the spread of the COVID 19 virus. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)  

The media tends to report on the bad news – the rising number of infections and the death toll.  But they have started to cover the number of people cured as well.  It is important to report on good news too.

Obviously if you take the number of the dead and the number of people cured together, off the total number of infections, you get the nett number of people still trying to heal.  Some of those are trying to self-medicate at home (with mild symptoms like those reported by Prince Charles) while some of those need to be hospitalized.  Some of those end up in ICU, and only some of those die. 

Let’s turn our attention though to some optimism.  Starting with the Solidarity Fund that the President of South Africa started – which promptly drew two pledge of R1 billion each, from the Rupert and the Oppenheimer families.

That was later dwarfed by some of the bail-out schemes, not the least of which is being enacted in the USA for over $2 trillion.   That’s a lot of dosh!  It’s the biggest such bill in American history, heck, maybe in world history?

Boris Johnson asked for volunteers to reinforce the NHS in Britian.  Can you believe that 250 000 people signed up within 24 hours?!

Researchers are networking as never before trying to find the pathway to a vaccine.  It is reminiscent of the race to find a treatment, cure or vaccine for the HIV virus.  Once effective treatment came along, the whole stigmatization and fear around AIDS started to melt.  God help our researchers to succeed once again.

There is also a lot of trading of treatment tips going on.  For example, the cocktail of antibiotics and anti-malarials that some Chinese doctors hit upon.  It spread to France and from there to other countries.  Could this be one reason why South Africa has passed the 700 mark in terms of people infected, without any deaths?  We don’t know yet for sure.

Another example is the twin-emergency rooms model coming out of Italian experience.  Hospitals there are recommending to those in other countries that they use this configuration.  Every hospital should have two distinct emergency rooms – one for normal service, and another for Covid-19.  The world is so well wired that experience and learning-by-doing can be rapidly and globally shared.

Another plus is the display of some good leadership.  Sure, some leaders have made serious mistakes.  But others have risen to the challenge and showed that they are made of the right stuff.  On this note, President Ramaphosa of South Africa is to be commended and his Health Minister Mkhize, for swift and decisive intervention.  “Head them off at the pass!” is what the cowboys used to say, and these two leaders have been proactive about containment and social distancing.  They did us proud.

Last of all, the heroic performance of first responders cannot go un-mentioned.  Health workers are clearly at risk.  In Spain, for example, about one in ten health workers has contracted the disease.  Some have succumbed, paying the ultimate price for their dedication.  It has been said repeatedly that this is not just a battle, this is a war – against an invisible, microscopic, lethal enemy.  Our health workers are on the front lines of combat.  They already deserve, collectively, the Person of the Year Award for 2020.

Honourable mention goes to our media colleagues who are probably in more danger than we realize.  Especially the journalists out there on the medical beat.  Travel is not easy in the midst of this crisis, and its key players are tense and extremely busy.  Yet more than perhaps ever before, this pandemic/war involves behaviour change.  It is hard for people to hunker down, crack down, count down, lock down and shut down.

So for all those who are now sequestered at home, or providing indispensable services and thus unable to stay home alone, we salute you!


Chuck Stephens works for the The UNEMBEZA desk at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity.