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TWO YEARS OF COVID: From globe-trotting news reporter to Covid-19 patient in near-death experience

My Covid-19 experience and recovery from the pandemic: Jonisayi Maromo

My Covid-19 experience and recovery from the pandemic: Jonisayi Maromo

Published Apr 1, 2022

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Pretoria – At midnight on March 26, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in an eerie address to the nation that South Africa was moving into a hard lockdown in an effort to contain the runaway spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

IOL's Two Years of Covid series explores the personal stories of our journalists and some of the biggest stories we have covered over this period.

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Personally, reality slowly settled in over the next few days as cars and pedestrians virtually vanished from Gauteng’s busy roads. It was confusing, being the only driver in my view on the N1 toll road, or the minor roads.

Two days after Ramaphosa announced the hard lockdown, ministers representing the Covid-19 National Command Council called a media briefing in Pretoria to update the nation on the status of the pandemic and to clarify on the strict enforcement of the lockdown across South Africa.

My Covid-19 experience as a journalist was characterised by observing the pandemic alter people's lives, and later having my life almost taken away. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/Facebook

Driving to the Government Communication and Information Systems’ (GCIS) Tshedimosetso House in Hatfield, I was shocked by dead silence which had promptly invaded the streets which are often a site of chaos with the infamous taxi drivers disregarding every rule in the book.

Public transport was permitted, but I met only one empty taxi as the potential passengers had vanished from the streets.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I got to the GCIS and met communications colleagues who were preparing for the media briefing, fellow journalists who were “slaving” like me, and moments later, several ministers arrived in convoys of their imposing trademark German machines.

At that point, masks were yet to be announced as a mandatory accessory. Social distancing was enforced at the media briefing, though many of us were happy to take selfies and smile for our phone cameras.

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At a media briefing before masks became a mandatory accessory. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/Facebook

In those days, Covid-19 was a myth to many. Even the country’s leading journalists at the media briefing were struggling to comprehend and fire questions on the nature of Covid-19 – the killer pandemic which had already started to cause unprecedented havoc across the globe.

The government ministers took turns to explain that the enemy was at the door.

Days before the hard lockdown was imposed, in February 2020, the Presidency in Pretoria had confirmed that more than 100 South African citizens living in the Chinese city of Wuhan were being repatriated back to South Africa.

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In the announcement, made on Thursday, the Presidency said the directive was issued by Ramaphosa.

In early March, two South Africans who had tested positive for the coronavirus on a luxury cruise liner in Japan had been given the green light to head home after they completed their treatment.

The pair, who had been working on the Diamond Princess in Japan, had tested positive for Covid-19 in February 2020.

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Fear and uncertainty had gripped South Africans, including journalists who had the unenviable task of communicating the news.

Schools were closed, and each time I worked from home, there was competition for space with my daughter Michelle, who had “nationalised” part of my home office desk. She was also doing virtual lessons, and sometimes we were both in different Zoom meetings in the same room. The awkwardness.

Working from home, there was competition for space with my daughter Michelle, who had her own Zoom meetings to attend for school. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/Facebook

When Covid-19 struck, with its lockdown partner, I had been a “street journalist” for around 15 years. I had avoided office work like the plague. My favourite beats included governance, international relations, crime, and protests on the streets were a weekly feature in Gauteng.

Travel was part of my daily routine, and often, the job took me to different parts of the world. When Covid-19 happened, my international trip had been a weeks-long tour of the People’s Republic of China, where several South African journalists toured different Chinese cities and regions including Beijing and Tibet.

Before Covid-19, travel was part of my daily routine, and often, my job took me to different parts of the world. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/Facebook

I did not stop going out to news stories when Covid-19 settled in South Africa. It soon became the “new reality” of empty roads, and police officers here and there checking for official permits for one to be on the streets. But the characteristic protests also did not stop.

Months later, in August 2020, my daily grind came to a halt when it was confirmed that I had contracted Covid-19. My mind raced, trying to imagine where I had been infected. It was a futile exercise as I had spent the previous weeks among crowds.

In June, EFF leader Julius Malema marshalled a crowd of supporters to the US embassy in Pretoria, demanding justice for African-American George Floyd, who died at the hands of white police officers in the US state of Minnesota. I attended the protest.

Just days before I tested positive for Covid-19, I had been at the centre of running battles on the streets of Pretoria as the SAPS threw stun grenades and fired rubber bullets at #NotInMyName activists picketing outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria.

I have long-standing health issues around my stomach, lungs and liver. I have had near-death experiences regularly, and when Covid-19 colonised my body – I did not know if I would make it out alive. My family was shaken.

That was my Damascus moment in the understanding of the monster of Covid-19. It was another near-death experience in a series of many health complications.

Salvation was in the form of herbs. I had a constant and regular supply of the then fashionable Artemisia afra, commonly known as African wormwood in English, wilde als in Afrikaans, umhlonyane in Zulu, and lengana in Sotho and Tswana. Pretoria’s undefeated entrepreneurs were back on the streets, selling the bushes at most traffic lights. Pharmacies stocked up on the herb in its different forms.

After more than a week of suffering, stuck in isolation, I rekindled my romance with my gym bike which had been rusting next to the swimming pool. I became a religious health enthusiast and the face mask became a permanent feature whenever I was out of the house.

After more than a week of suffering, stuck in isolation, I rekindled my romance with my gym bike. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/Facebook

From being a global traveller to being confined within the yard was a considerable challenge, particularly with regards to mental health.

It’s now beyond day 735 of the different levels of lockdown and people across South Africa have been overwhelmed by anxiety, depression and the economic collapse linked to the pandemic

Last year, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) saw a significant increase of more than 1 400 daily calls from people seeking help.

IOL

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