The Growing Pettiness of South Africa’s Covid-19 Lockdown
South Africans can’t ride bicycles, go for jogs or buy cosmetics, magazines, clothing or cooked food at supermarkets. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned, and a diabetic man was recently fined for going to the local pharmacy to collect life-saving medication. Is South Africa’s lockdown departing from its original intention as a crucial defense against Covid-19 towards a show of bureaucratic clout by civil servants on power trips?
On 27 March 2020, South Africa began its 21-day lockdown in the wake of Covid-19. The initial end date, 16 April, came and went after the government extended the lockdown by a further two weeks. By that time, the nation had begun to get antsy.
The first Covid-19 case in South Africa was reported on March 5th. By March 24th, when President Cyril Ramaphosa made the lockdown announcement, there were over 500 confirmed cases countrywide. The announcement, widely praised as a display of exemplary crisis-time leadership, was a swift and steadfast response to the growing threat of Covid-19 in the world’s most unequal society. But now, over a month into the lockdown, the particulars of Ramaphosa’s appropriately stringent response to an impending public health crisis are now being called into question.
As the public deplore the blanket ban on vices and outdoor exercise and trade associations clash with the state over its nebulous communications, some question the dogmatism of Ramaphosa’s government in enforcing the restrictions in recent weeks. In short, there’s simply not enough clarity around many of the rules South Africans are expected to follow.
South Africa’s lockdown was a justified and appropriate response to the Covid-19 threat. South Africa has a large immuno-compromised population as a result of HIV/AIDS, with 7.7 million people living with the virus countrywide. Respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis are also prevalent and South Africa’s severely overburdened and under-resourced healthcare system can scarcely cope with the existing burden of disease extraneous to Covid-19. These major public health risk factors present the ideal conditions for a novel pathogen to proliferate in a country where millions do not have the immunological resources to fight it and whose hospitals do not have the resources to treat it. The virus…