What sprung to mind when I contemplated this blog was a meme that I saw on Facebook recently. The exact words escape me, but the gist of it is this: Isn’t it ironic that people will go onto the internet, which exists entirely on machines, to bemoan the fact that they do not trust technology?
The not-so-new but still-as-scary virus
Unless you have been living under a rock on the disk world the flat earth hangers-on believe in, you would have heard quite a bit about the COVID-19 virus and what scientists tell us we can do to keep ourselves safe(r) from it. I am not going to rehash it here (but please wash your hands, wear a mask, distance yourself and get vaccinated).
I want to talk about what businesses and governments can do, and increasingly are doing, now, in the last quarter of 2021. To do so, I first want to talk about history. As the often quoted statement goes: ‘all we learn from history is that we repeat it’. So let us consider one of the most recent examples of public measures that have been instituted world-wide in an effort to ensure better health outcomes for everyone – anti-smoking bans.
Some fun facts about smoking bans (unless you are a smoker)
Efforts to ban the smoking of tobacco is not new.
- In 1575 a Roman Catholic Church regulation forbade the use of tobacco in any church in Mexico. The Pope threatened congregants with excommunication, should they dare to sin in this way.
- In 1633, the Ottoman Sultan, Murad IV prohibited smoking in his empire. He didn’t play, either. He had smokers executed
- In 1876, the first building where smoking was banned was the Old Government Building in Wellington, New Zealand
- In 1975, Minnesota became the first state in the US to ban smoking in public places
- In 1993, the first anti-tabaco laws were issued in South Africa
A review of the world’s anti-smoking laws indicates that the world really seemed to become serious about it in the early 2000s. It didn’t go down well, initially.
Part of the human condition is that we like to believe what we choose to, despite evidence to the contrary. Once we hear something that suits us, we hold onto it for dear life as we close our eyes and minds.
It didn’t help that tobacco was punted as a cure for ‘nerves’ and that it had become fashionable, and then how and what you smoked became absorbed into culture as an indicator of masculinity and femininity.
Tobacco companies produced their own ‘research’ about the impact on smokers and their nearest and dearest. Critics of the ban used this to dispute the increased risks of lung cancer. Organisations representing the tobacco industry and smokers also argued that ventilators could be used to remove smoke from bars and pubs. Scientists hotly contested these claims.
Another argument was that it would negatively impact businesses, notably bars and restaurants, as smoking customers would be driven away. A report by the Restaurant Association in England suggested it could cost restaurants £346 million and 45,000 jobs.
Opponents also rejected the idea on civil liberties grounds. They argued that it was not the state’s role to determine what people do to their bodies. Afterall, it was not illegal to smoke tobacco!
Interestingly, supporters of a ban made virtually the same point, arguing that they should not be made to breathe other people’s smoke.
Many legal battles around the world ensued, but ultimately the courts decided this was a health issue. Non-smokers rights could not be infringed upon.
What was the point of the ban?
It was meant to change how the public behaved in, well, public, for the Greater Good! It illustrates how individual rights are limited – the greater well-being of all trumps your individual preferences.
How does this relate to COVID-19 and the regulation of behaviour in public?
COVID-19 is a novel virus. It means it is new. Part of the human condition is that people are hardwired to be afraid of what they don’t know. Oh, and we DO NOT like changing our ways! Do you recognise how many of the same behaviours and arguments are used today when people question the directives that governs how we should act in the face of this threat?
Endless court battles
Sadly, the only winners here are the legal eagles who will line their pockets. And, of course, those who hide behind them because they have vested interests. Oh, and those who make money illegally through corrupt schemes that inflate prices. As we wait for rulings to be disputed all the way up the higher courts ladder to the constitutional court, we watch anxiously as the COVID-19 numbers climb. The fourth wave of infections are said to show up in December and January.
How many more people have to die?
What we know is that the courts have, over and over, decreed that the principle of protecting everyone trumps your personal rights to do what you want.
Why do I insist that all my staff members provide proof of their vaccinations?
I want to protect my staff and my clients! Many of my clients are older and, just by looking at someone, you cannot see if they are a carrier of the virus, nor what the factors are that makes them and THEIR near and dear ones vulnerable to infection and serious outcomes, should they become ill.
Unlocking a world of possibilities
If you are not concerned enough about people dying, then maybe what is happening to the economy and, ultimately, your pocket could sway you.
Since South Africa was removed from the red list in the UK and other countries, 32 cruise liners are meant to dock in Cape Town during the holiday season. This expected to bring between 20 and 40 million visitors to the Cape. A million people from Europe alone are expected to come through our airport in Cape Town – up from only 153 000 a year ago. These tourists are expected to spend around R220 billion in the Western Cape alone.
In a country where we have lost 600K formal jobs and countless more in the informal sector, where tourism is the life blood of many cities, towns and small dorpies, as well as industries, we cannot afford to be bumped back onto the red list again.
Concerns over the digital COVID passport
Yes, few of us have much faith in the Powers That Be right now. One of the big fears many opponents have to the passport is the safety of their personal information. I want to ask you this: how often do you use your ID number, telephone number, address, and the name of your first pet to do transactions online? How often do you use your personal details to pay a traffic fine or make your tax submissions?
As always, use common sense: do not give any passwords to your bank account to anyone. Use the individual code that is sent to you from the Department of Health via SMS – this is the only code that will allow you to download your digital certificate. It is encrypted in such a way that no-one but those who require it for official use can access it.
Not getting vaccinated remains your right. However, be prepared, then, to live with the consequences. Your world will shrink. Other countries will require it, should you wish to travel. It will be the thing that gets you into a concert or other social or sporting event. Some people are already requiring this if you wish to attend their weddings or family celebrations. And of course, if you work with people face-to-face, you will need it if you wish to earn an income.