We’ve reached the point where the economic and health repercussions of lockdown outweigh the risk of contracting the virus.
By Julia Evans
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.
Gareth Cliff, radio personality and former judge of Idols SA, wrote an open letter to the President urging him to immediately eradicate the nationwide lockdown as he believed the economic repercussions outweigh the health implications caused by Covid-19. Cliff said, “many of us aren’t afraid of the virus anymore. It’s our health and we’ll take our chances.” Cliff’s letter received a lot of backlash with many people unhappy with how he seemed to speak for all South Africans when he comes from a position of power and privilege as a white male celebrity.
To debate this, journalist Redi Thlabi brought Cliff and Jamil Khan, social commenter and academic, onto her show, Rise Above. Cliff’s main argument was that healthy citizens need to go out and contribute to the economy, arguing that because of the lockdown, “we may have plunged more people into poverty, potential starvation and unemployment than (the number of people who) will die from Covid-19,” (Cliff).
Khan’s rebuttal centred around critiquing Cliff’s position as a white male with power and his positive outlook on our current economic system of free trade, stating, “you, Gareth, are one of those powerful people. Whatever wealth you have currently in your possession – is as a consequence of the exploitation of the people that you are saying you care about.”
Similar to Cliff, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being a beneficiary of historical privilege and the current economic system. However, I’m not upset that the lockdown is ruining my Coachella plans (@VanessaHudgens), but genuinely concerned that South Africa is facing severe economic and health problems (with the working class taking the biggest hit) that will take years to recover from. When it comes to the pandemic, because it’s something we’ve never faced in our lifetime, the only thing that is clear is that there is no clear solution. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future because we’re learning as we go along and other country’s strategies aren’t necessarily relevant to our context. However, I do believe that we have reached the point where the lockdown is causing more harm than good.
It’s evident that the lockdown has taken a toll on our economy with many people unable to work and generate an income, feed their families and businesses closing without hope of ever reopening. And we haven’t yet seen the full effect – it’s about to get much worse. Not only is our economy suffering due to the measures put in place to flatten the curve, but ironically, so is the health of our population. Dr Glenda Gray, physician and scientist and CEO of the SA Medical Research Council, thinks the continued lockdown is now negligible and that it should be stopped completely. Gray agreed with the initial decision to have a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus so that the health care system could have time to prepare. However, Gray argues that the phasing out of lockdown has now become “nonsensical and unscientific.”
And she’s not the only health professional who thinks this. Infectious disease specialist, Professor Shabir Madhi agrees, stating that the government’s response to phase out lockdown is, “setting us up for greater mortality from non-Covid related illnesses”.
Both medical professionals highlight how lockdown has increased cases of malnutrition in children, how there significant reduction (50%) in HIV and Tuberculosis testing and people feeling like they should not seek medical treatment. Not to mention the increase in domestic violence and mental health issues.
A potential solution is to relax the lockdown to the effect where we maximise economic activity as much as possible without overcrowding hospitals. Yes, with this will come an increase in the number of cases but this isn’t as scary as you might assume. Whether we end the lockdown now or in September, Madhi says 60% of our population will contract the virus. But 70% of those with the virus will be asymptomatic and only 5% of those infected will face the risk of dying. These people, “are usually older than 65 years (greater than 80%) or have underlying comorbidities (such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity).”
Thus, those vulnerable people and their households should be in isolation, with the rest of us getting back to work and trade – stimulating the economy so there is a world for them to come back to. This doesn’t mean returning to life as per usual. No hitting up Tin Roof or going back to lectures of 100 people – but an adapted life where you work from home if possible, practice non-pharmaceutical interventions (washing hands, keeping 6 ft apart and wearing masks in public) and support those who are too vulnerable to go out.
Maybe my opinion as a young and healthy white privileged individual will be seen as irrelevant because I am not the one most at risk from the virus nor will I experience the full impacts of the economic recession (such as poverty and malnutrition). I don’t agree with Cliff’s whole argument; namely his belief that our economy gives everyone an equal shot. However, I will say I agree with these sentiments, “maybe you’re right I do have a position of power and privilege but then it’s all the more my duty to say what I think and to do what I say […] because that’s my definition of integrity.”
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