Access to affordable, if not free, high speed Internet is therefore no longer a luxury in the time of Covid-19, says the author. File Photo: IANS
Access to affordable, if not free, high speed Internet is therefore no longer a luxury in the time of Covid-19, says the author. File Photo: IANS

OPINION: Now more than ever, the internet might as well be a human right

By Lucky Masilela Time of article published Mar 25, 2020

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The current Covid-19 pandemic is probably the most compelling case for making Internet access a human right, if ever there was one. 

Leaders of the world over the past two weeks have been announcing measures to contain the spread and impact of this strain of Covid-19 mainly by restricting non-essential movement. 

Here in South Africa, President Ramaphosa announced that as of midnight March 26, the country will officially be under total lockdown to contain the rapidly spreading disease. At the time of publication, over 700 people had already tested positive for Covid-19. 

This new development follows the "national state of disaster" that the president declared two weeks ago.

Among others, meetings of over 100 people were prohibited and travel bans were enforced. Planes carrying people from "high risk countries" were turned back at airports.

The president also closed schools earlier on March 18. In addition to that, lessons were suspended at institutions of higher learning and those in residences were told to vacate the premises.

Companies, universities, sporting federations, churches and many civil society organisations followed suit. Several meetings and conferences were postponed in line with global trends and workers advised to work from home.

Defeating this outbreak needs a robust communications strategy, backed by a solid infrastructure.

What is Covid-19? Who gets it? How? Can it be prevented? Is there a cure or vaccine for it? What should one do when they are infected? How serious is the threat of a global meltdown due to this outbreak?

These and many other questions bug Africans every day. Of the biggest enemies of the anti-Covid-19 onslaught has been misinformation and the spreading of fake news. Both beget panic.

This was lamented by the Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the social media-savvy Director-General of the World Health Organisation, in his early information efforts.

 Lucky Masilela, CEO of ZA Central Registry, says the power of the internet is beyond a doubt in times such as this, allowing people to get in touch and deliver health advice and progress updates. 

Through his 643,000 Twitter followers, @DrTedros led and supported creative campaigns such as the #SafeHands pledge, #TogetherAtHome with the help of the Internet.

#TogetherAtHome saw international stars like John Legend and Coldplay giving free concerts online, ensuring that social distance need not necessarily be equal to isolation and deprivation. 

The Secretary-General also managed to get to contain unnecessary panic by launching campaigns to help members of the global community to make informed decisions and act accordingly. Can you imagine doing this without the Internet which makes it easier to share videos, to demonstrate hygienic habits, promote efforts to help those in need and correct any misconceptions in real time?

One such initiative is the OpenWHO, which is his agency’s new interactive, web-based, knowledge-transfer platform offering online courses to improve the response to health emergencies.

The power of the Internet is beyond a doubt in times such as this; allowing all of us to stay in touch, communicate key messages, manage performance of colleagues, teach children, deliver health advice and progress updates. 

This is tantamount to making sure that life continues even in dire circumstances brought about by Covid-19 and other outbreaks.

Access to affordable, if not free, high speed Internet is therefore no longer a luxury. Internet connectivity could be the difference between life and death. It is our hope at Registry Africa and ZA Central Registry that one of the legacies of this COVID-19 crisis would be Africans embracing digitisation and polishing their online presence. 

Let the different authorities speed up the drive to make Internet access a given – not a nice-to-have.

Lucky Masilela is the CEO of ZA Central Registry.

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