Imtiaz Sooliman is co-founder and director of humanitarian relief organisation Gift of the Givers. File picture: Supplied
Imtiaz Sooliman is co-founder and director of humanitarian relief organisation Gift of the Givers. File picture: Supplied

Covid-19 in SA: Is it time to modify our strategy?

By Imtiaz Sooliman Time of article published May 21, 2020

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Covid-19 has outsmarted us. It has evaded lockdown, going straight for our front-line defence, attacking healthcare workers, police, defence and security services personnel.

It ensured the shutdown of operating theatres, hospitals, police stations and food outlets, crippled the economy and shattered livelihoods, with unprecedented job losses expected in just five weeks of lockdown. 

Add to this the staggering increase of calls to Childline, the exponential increase in gender-based violence and the disturbance in emotional wellbeing and mental health, exacerbated by alcohol, drug and tobacco withdrawal. Is it time to modify some aspects of our strategy? 

Countries don't have single-entity challenges. It is a natural fact of life that individuals, communities and nations face diverse challenges that require a balanced approach to ensure the optimal functioning of that society. 

Covid-19 has thrown that challenge out to us. Are we obsessed with dealing with a single-entity challenge and abdicated rationality in dealing with the crisis holistically?

Whilst Covid-19 has shown us the middle finger, it has been extremely generous to us in many ways. Though it has been coming at us with increasing momentum, our rate of infection for a population of 58 million people and the accompanying deaths have been merciful to say the least, and even of those infected, the recovery rates have been heartening. 

The mercy has extended further in that only seven to 10 regions have been targeted substantively. This creates a silver lining for us to create that balance between single-entity and multiple challenges so necessary to maintain an optimally functional society.

All provinces and areas which are substantially Covid-19 free should go into full-scale economic activity once the health authorities are certain that the minimal infection in those areas are contained. 

Miners returning to low-risk provinces should be phased in but housed at their workplaces for 14-21 days before returning to the communities around the mines once all screening and testing, if necessary, is complete. Travel to the 10 high-risk areas should be restricted, with full protective measures taken.

Front-line medical services in the 10 hot spots should be given total support as a matter of priority: unrestricted PPEs, PCR testing machines and test kits to ensure a 45-minute turnaround time for the critically ill in ICU, those undergoing emergency surgery, patients in labour, and suspected infected healthcare workers. 

The physical and mental wellbeing of healthcare workers, exhausted by the anxiety of facing up to Covid-19 every day, overworked and understaffed, has to be addressed immediately. Urgency, emergency and disaster means an intervention is required in four to 72 hours and NOT four to seven months. 

It's time to recruit and PAY for additional healthcare workers to be deployed at the 10 hot spots. This must NOT be a token, minimalistic recruitment but a large-scale intervention to ensure substantial backup to compensate for any infected HCW being withdrawn for 14 days. 

It can't be said there is no funding. The last we heard billions have been made available through generous public funding. TB and HIV patients need access to their chronic medication urgently – lockdown has restricted visits to the clinics. Years of successful control are about to go out the window if this is not reversed immediately. If Covid-19 pays a visit, or if TB spreads, we are in for the long haul much greater than a single-entity challenge. 

Small business should be given instant access to the loans promised, interest free; banks should waive interest on the three-month holiday payment; the Reserve Bank must cut interest rates (this will affect pensioners' returns); and shopping malls should substantively cut the disproportionate rental rates charged to non-anchor tenants.

In short, saving the South African economy, and in essence ourselves, requires an altruistic intervention combining cost reduction and increased generosity, including paying the ordinary plumber, electrician, mechanic, panel beater and the like more than the reasonable amount billed to compensate for weeks of loss of income. 

This is dignity without seeming to be charity. We should be on an accelerated mission to save families, individually or collectively. Every business that finds its feet has the potential to increase job creation.

Finally, let's find creative means of resuscitating devastated farmers. They have the potential of employing hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, enhance food security and contribute at least 18% to the GDP. 

The rand is at a reasonable level compared to what was predicted; the fuel price, a big driver of inflation, is in our favour. All we need is a calm, rational, anxiety-free reappraisal of our strategy. Stronger Together, we can make it happen.

* Imtiaz Sooliman is co-founder and director of humanitarian relief organisation Gift of the Givers.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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