Basic hygiene measures may seem obvious, but they are important. Washing hands with plain soap and plain water kills viruses, but only if it’s done thoroughly and often. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, to ensure germs won’t be transferred to objects or spread from person to person. Photographer: Lalinka Mahote/ African News Agency (ANA)
Basic hygiene measures may seem obvious, but they are important. Washing hands with plain soap and plain water kills viruses, but only if it’s done thoroughly and often. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, to ensure germs won’t be transferred to objects or spread from person to person. Photographer: Lalinka Mahote/ African News Agency (ANA)

Sane-tise to keep from catching the mania contagion

By Kevin Ritchie Time of article published Mar 14, 2020

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La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) took a body blow earlier this week after the Italian government extended its Covid-19 quarantine of part of the north of the country to the entire nation.

You can say what you like about the Italians, there have been no half measures; the schools were closed, then the big soccer fixtures were played to empty stadia. Finally, there was a lockdown on movement until April 4.

In Britain, on the other hand, there’s a bizarre schizophrenia led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is so hands-off, he’s the kind of person who thinks Manual Labour plays left half for FC Porto, underpinned by a tabloid media that shrills “DON’T PANIC”, while its coverage - on its websites especially - does precisely the opposite.

In the greatest of ironies one of the earliest high-profile patients to be quarantined was Britain’s health secretary.

On either side of the globe, President Xi Jinping perhaps signalled that China’s over the worst, making his first visit to Wuhan, the original epicentre of the virus outbreak.

The orange agent in the White House, on the other hand, continued to dispute the science, but ended up banning travellers from the EU (not Britain) for 30 days - from the end of the month.

The first world hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory; amazing scenes of selfishness like the deservedly viral video of panic buying and riot over toilet paper in Australia. Or the equally bizarre bout of weaponised coughing on a Sydney commuter train, where a woman coughs repeatedly into a man’s face.

Thus far it seems like we are doing okay, as a country. The Health Department under Zweli Mkhize remains rational, approachable, seemingly transparent and most importantly calm.

Health screening was in place at OR Tambo International Airport well before the outbreak of this global health scare, is regularly praised on social media by international travellers and has caught most of the early reported cases.

But we are still susceptible to the mania, particularly those who can afford to be: there’s been a run on face masks and hand sanitisers in the shopping malls in the suburbs of South Africa’s affluent metropoles. Just why beggars the imagination - the danger of infection comes from all of us not washing our hands. Unless the intention is to douse everyone you come in contact with as they approach within breathing range.

It’s the same attitude that allows people to work from home, yet still send their kids to school - the greatest incubator of pharmacy- resistant lurgies.

It’s the same myopia for those who might “self-isolate” yet find the energy to raise themselves from their sick beds to allow the domestic staff in - ironically, the most at-risk sector with the least safety net in terms of either job security or sick leave.

Perhaps the biggest problem with self-isolation, though, is that it forces people even deeper into the echo chambers of social media, feeding on the fear and fake news.

It’s another contagion that we can really do without.

* Kevin Ritchie is a journalist and a former newspaper editor.

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

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