Concerns over people’s refusal to wear masks amidst deadly pandemic
By Lethu Nxumalo and Reeshni Chetty
With the rate of Covid-19 infections and deaths growing exponentially, daily, in KwaZulu Natal, there are still people who refuse to adhere to various safety protocols.
Government officials, community leaders and others have made repeated calls for adherence to the protocols in place, but some individuals still venture out of their homes without wearing masks, which is a criminal offence.
This week, King Goodwill Zwelithini also emphasised the importance of adherence to regulations and called on all South Africans to unify in the fight against the coronavirus.
During his virtual birthday message on Monday, King Zwelithini said the virus had also affected the royal family, and he believed his ancestors had never contended with such an enemy as Covid-19, which has ravaged the nation.
“Most of our people are sick, and many more will be counted among those infected in a few weeks based on the reports and the behaviour of our people.”
The king lamented the recklessness and carelessness of many, and pleaded for all to remain indoors as much as possible.
In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, previously announced that failure to adhere to the new mandatory regulation of wearing masks in public would result in jail time.
Lamola said lawbreakers would be charged with breaching the Disaster Management Act and could be fined or imprisoned for at least six months.
However, his stern warning has fallen on deaf ears, with many still choosing to visit public spaces and interact with others minus their masks.
A Pietermaritzburg man who refuses to wear a mask said he was aware of the consequences, but argued that if some government officials attended mass gatherings without masks, why should he wear them.
The man, who asked not to be named, said he had not fallen ill and therefore did not see the need to be bound by a mask.
Another man interviewed by the Sunday Tribune said masks caused him difficulty in breathing, and he found the elastic that went over his ears to be cumbersome.
In a recent video that went viral on social media, a customer at a Clicks Pharmacy refused to wear a mask in the store.
The visibly irate man was heard saying: “You guys can't tell me what to do,” when confronted by staff.
"I don't have to wear it. I'm sick and tired of you guys trying to tell me what to do,” he said.
Sedick Arendse, Clicks’ chief store operations officer, confirmed the July incident.
“Wearing a face mask is a mandatory safety requirement by law, as well as our company policy. The safety of all customers and staff is our top priority. However, if situations arise where masks are removed within the store, we try to manage it as effectively and as soon as possible,” he said.
Dr Sherona Rawat, a clinical psychologist, said it was important for individuals to note and accept that certain freedoms had been set aside due to the State of Disaster warranted by the pandemic. However, she raised concerns about government officials who failed to be role models by consistently and properly wearing their masks.
Rawat said had the government made adequate and suitable masks easily available to the public, it would have fostered a sense of unity.”
“I do not see any significant impact from a psychological perspective to wearing a mask. It is what meaning an individual allocates to the wearing of a mask that is an issue. If you believe you are being bullied by the government to wear a mask, you will feel angry, but if you believe that the government's insistence on wearing a mask in public is valid and reliable, then you will be happy to wear it.
"It is all up to you in the end as to how you see it that makes a difference between whether it has a positive or negative impact on you,” she said.
KZN has recorded almost 1000 Covid-19 deaths, over 70000 active cases and almost 40000 recoveries.