The first strategy is containment. Terms like “lock-down” come to mind. It is enforced seclusion, and a lot easier to enforce in a totalitarian state than in one that enforces “civil liberties”. Call it “tough love”. It seems to have worked in China, curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
The second strategy is “mitigation”. A term that is easier to understand is “social distancing”. That’s a much nicer word than “quarantine”! This is why they used to send lepers away, to designated locations. Don’t think of it as isolation or loneliness, but as a protective precaution. Look on it as solitude. Not 40 days in the desert, only 14 days. Do your best to observe self-quarantine scrupulously.
Face masks are a good visualization of what is going on. They will not protect you from catching the virus from someone else. Their value is in protecting the other people around – when the wearer coughs or sneezes. Then there is an element of protection, but not of the wearer. Of others.
Protect yourself by washing your hands – often. Preferably with disinfectant soap. Also wipe off your cell phone and your keyboard regularly. For they are in constant touch with your fingertips.
Instead of shaking hands, which can be hazardous to your health, touch toes with other people! It’s a kind of soccer greeting!
Speaking of which two behaviours have to be red-carded. They always seem to emerge when pestilences are life-threatening.
The first red card is for scapegoating. We already hear of the derision of Chinese people among us. The Jews were blamed by many for the outbreak of the Great Plague. They were accused of poisoning wells. And during the Spanish Flu epidemic, it was derisively called “the French disease” by the Italians and “the Italian disease” by the French. You get the picture.
This even happened during the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa in 2017. Various conspiracy theories emerged from that episode about who was to blame.
No one is sure where the Spanish Flue originated. Some think that is was an experiment in biological warfare the scientists failed to control, on its way to deployment on the front. The recent death of world-renown Canadian researcher Frank Plummer in Nairobi started rumours that Covid-19 may also have origins in bio-warfare as well? Plummer worked in the same National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, Canada from where Chinese bio-warfare agent Xiangguo Qiu and her colleagues smuggled SARS coronavirus to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology – where it is believed to have been weaponized and leaked. Just the existence of a Wuhan Institute of Virology is enough to get tongues wagging! Are they blaming the pangolin as a smoke-screen?
The second red-card is for harmful transmission. Yes just like a knife that is useful in the kitchen can suddenly serve as a lethal weapon, so also with pestilence. Remember that the Bubonic Plague originated in Mongolia. It was carried across Asia with Mongol soldiers, somehow. As Mongol soldiers started dying, Janibeg started catapaulting them over the city walls of Jaffa. Sure enough, those under siege inside the city wall started dying. So being the major port of the Grain Trade at that time, on the Black Sea, people escaped on ships – that sailed into European harbours. Thus came the Black Death to Europe too.
It turns out that it was not the people who transmitted it, nor the rats that infested their ships full of grain, not even the fleas on the rats. It was a small bacterium that the fleas carry quite naturally. This bacterium was not identified until 1894, in another outbreak – in China – of this dreaded pestilence,. It was a Russian scientist working for the Pasteur Institute who finally identified the bacterium. He had the dubious honour of having had it named after him! Five hundred years after this pestilence decimated Europe! But I digress.
In Africa, there have been plenty of cases of “HIV-endangerment”. That is, of either intentional or reckless (but certainly harmful) transmission. This perverse practice has been outlawed in many African countries, as one of various Prevention strategies. It has been successfully prosecuted as well in a number of countries. But in South Africa, this crime has been all but ignored by the hapless NPA.
Who can doubt that the coronavirus may have been spread “harmfully” into some of the zones where it is now rampant? Whether that was intentionally like Janibeg the Mongol or just “recklessly” like a woman who fails to alert a man that she is sero-positive, in the context of a “honey trap”. Both are crimes. But Shawn the Sheep’s booby-trap was to stack the NPA with a captured and/or incompetent cadre of state prosecutors.
In the SONA, the President promised 800 new investigators and almost 300 new prosecutors. God forbid that cadre deployment once again dilutes and debilitates a once-reputable entity. Our hope is that the NPA might be restored to its once and future Quality of service. And not a moment too soon, lest the coronavirus be criminally deployed to shorten people’s lives – as the HIV virus was.
Chuck Stephens Chuck Stephens works for the Unembeza Desk at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity.