New levels of lockdown – cabin fever is real

lockdown cabin fever

The concept of an ‘end to lockdown’ is different for everybody. What we can agree on is that 99.77% of us want it to roll around sooner rather than later. It seems, for once, introverts have the advantage over their extrovert friends and colleagues.

Yet, even most of the most introverted introverts are chomping at the bit by now. For many of the latter it is not because they hate being at home. In fact, under ‘normal’ circumstances they would happily trade their left kidneys to stay in. It is the fact that you are NOT ALLOWED out that eats at them.

Unfortunately, for far too many, it is the fact that they and theirs are hungry that eats at them.

Balancing how to keep people alive by avoiding the spread of the Corona virus whilst at the same time avoiding adverse health outcomes and death by starvation (a real threat in this country) is serious business. For now, preserving as many lives as possible take precedence over our comfort. But people must eat.

Not any way the wind blows

Deciding how to open the economy is not something the President and his Crisis Command Centre personnel is managing by licking their collective thumbs and sticking it in the air to see which direction the wind is blowing from. It’s based on science. And history. And economics. And math. And geography.

Protecting those who will become ill

To date, 5.8 million people have been screened. This means that their temperatures have been taken and they were asked a standardised set of health related questions. 180 000 of these have been referred for testing at local health facilities, because they displayed some symptoms that warranted a closer look. Though numbers change regularly, at the time of writing, 4996 positive cases have been documented in South Africa.  

Currently, South Africa is gearing up for the rapid increase in infections that will still come, regardless of our preparations. We have 3 300 ICU beds and 120 000 general hospital beds available, countrywide. These, by all calculations, may not be enough. Various plans for the rapid expansion of field hospitals are being readied. Already, some existing infrastructure have been repurposed to make this a reality. The City of Cape Town says it will convert the Cape Town Stadium, Athlone Stadium, the Bellville Velodrome and other sports grounds and community halls in as little as 24 hours for use as medical and isolation facilities.

Protecting the economy

It is ironic that we spent Freedom Day under house arrest, but on Worker’s Day an estimated 1.5 million workers will be able to return to work. So how did Government decide on who gets to return?

The Government asked these questions:

  1. What are all the sectors of industry and categories of occupations in the country?
  1. What does each sector contribute to the economy?
  1. What are the chances of the acceleration of spreading the virus in terms of operational and environmental factors?
  1.  How has each sector been impacted?
  1. Would not allowing resumption of work destroy the sector?

For those who do return to work, new rules will apply:

  1. All businesses must monitor the temperature of staff members twice a day and administer a questionnaire about possible symptoms
  1. Workers must be spaced in such a way that there is a distance of 2 meters between them
  1. No gloves are required (these are not available in any case) but face coverings are
  1. Regular deep cleaning procedures need to be actioned
  1. Regular disinfection procedures should be put in place that should be followed by each staff member. This may include such measures as:
  • Regular wiping down of phones
  • Cleaning work spaces before and after use
  • Sanitising hands at regular intervals during the day
  • Managing your own cutlery and crockery in a hygienic manner

It is very concerning that there have been cases reported where managers and owners of businesses in the essential service sectors have failed to put the above-mentioned measures in place and whole work forces have become infected. We hope that disciplinary sanction and legal action will follow. Their negligence does not only affect their staff and their families and communities. It also influences the chances that the province can be de-escalated to lower restriction levels.

One of the difficulties businesses will experience is the acquisition of no-contact thermometers. These are expensive and not easily available. Many have been manufactured in China. There has been global outcry as many of these have proven to be faulty. In response, the Chinese government has launched massive campaigns to investigate businesses and recalled and seized vast amounts of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical devices. Hundreds of people were arrested and businesses closed.

Geographical differences

The spread of the virus is not equal across all communities and provinces. There are provinces, such as Kwa-Zulu Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng that have registered many more positive cases and faster rates of infection. Urban centres are worst hit. Some areas have registered none or very few cases.

For this reason, control and coordination will now be devolved to the Premiers in each province. The province will be divided up into cities, regions and sub-regions. The Premier, together with the Minister of Health in each province, will be in contact with the National Minister of Health and will determine how the levels of restriction will be applied. This means that some areas may be deemed safe enough for levels to be lowered, before the restrictions are lifted in other areas. Should there be a surge in infections in a particular area, a higher level of restriction may be imposed again.

 We cannot stress this strongly enough – if you do not do your bit to adhere to the measures put in place, you jeopardize everybody. Your own family and community, yes, but also the rest of the city or town you live in and your province. Without your adherence and pressure on others around you to adhere to common sense and the actual legal requisites, we will not only stay at level four, but may well face being sent back into the full lockdown of level five.  

Inconsistencies and vague bits

Many of the finer details still need to be worked out. The implications in other areas such as travel, education and health (excluding emergency needs) still need to be clarified. Knowing which restriction level applies to which area at any given time and the complications of this on so many aspects of life may prove to be challenging.

Something to think about: if parents go back to work, what happens to the children if the schools are not open and the parents cannot afford private child care? If children go back to school, feeding schemes need to become operational again. Much of the funding that was earmarked for this has gone into providing food parcels. The tenders have been awarded and distribution networks have been put in place, costing government a lot of money.

Also, during level three, if you can prove that you need to attend a meeting on the other side of the country, you can fly there. However, you cannot stay over anywhere. Does this mean you have to fly back the same day? So if the meeting only ends late in the evening and there are no flights available, what would you be expected to do?

But we are not yet there. Your children will go back to school eventually. Travel within your province will come. Inter-provincial travel will come. International travel will come. And for now – 1.5 million people will be able to return to work and we are grateful.

So over but not over, you say

Someone cynically commented on Facebook, Level 4 is basically the same as Level 5, but with ‘entjies’ (cigarettes for those not familiar with South African slang). Sigh. Whereas humour is an important survival mechanism in difficult times, we do need to be aware of the fact that it can often reinforce faulty thinking and unhelpful approaches.

At the risk of being a killjoy, remember this is a serious situation. A life or death situation. It may be difficult to comprehend that now, because we have not seen the levels of suffering and death that many countries across the globe (often with much better infrastructure than we have) have had to deal with. We don’t want to lose all we’ve gained, all we’ve collectively and individually sacrificed so much for.

So. This is not the time to be more concerned about jogging or partying or walking the dog than the survival of others. And no – clarity about walking the dog and going for a jog has not been given yet. We are told that some level of exercise will be permitted, but the jury is still out on what form that will take.

So what about my nicotine addiction? When can I drown my sorrows?

As of the 1st May 2020, you can buy cigarettes and other tobacco products again. You’ll have to wait until level three before some alcohol sales will be possible (though we do not know what this means yet). It is only at level two that wine will be allowed to flow freely again.

Three additional restrictions, alas

  • Curfew – no-one may be outside after 20h00 at night and before 05h00 in the morning, unless you have a valid permit. Should you disobey, you will find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
  • Cloth masks – should you leave your home, you will be required to wear a cloth mask. It does not have to be a fancy one – a t-shirt or bandanna will do – but a mask consisting of three layers of material is strongly recommended. You should preferably have two so that you can wash one with warm water and soap after each use. It should be hung in the sun for a few hours or ironed to disinfect it further. Consider, too, that there are many community organisations that make these masks. You may be able to provide a small business or individual with some income. Some need it more than others.
  • Vulnerable groups – If you are over 60 years of age or if you have medical concerns that weaken your immune system, like diabetes, or could lead to complications, should you contract the Corona virus, such as asthma, you should stay put, as if you are still in level five.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, know this will end. How soon depends on you and me. Let’s all play ball. This is the one time your mother can’t moan at you for playing ball indoors!  

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