As South Africans, our sense of humour gets us through many challenges. Our initial response to Covid-19 was no different. The memes were seemingly instant and quite brilliant.
Then we registered our first case in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and our second case struck very close to home, in Muizenberg. And the laughter ebbed. The streets were very suddenly, quieter. The information became clearer.
Then President Cyril Ramaphosa declared an official state of disaster. And this gave me pause. Over breakfast the previous day, I had been with friends and had already mapped three ways that I could have come into contact with the virus, simply by six degrees of separation (it seems much closer than six now).
My appeal to you as an individual is to make a call for the collective.
You may only experience the virus as a sniffle – a mild cold/flu. But – you may be a carrier to somebody whose immune system is already compromised. Those of us who are at higher risk of severe illness don’t wear placards. How many diabetics do you know? How many people in your social circle have a family member undergoing chemotherapy? For older adults and those with existing medical conditions, such as chronic heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancers, immune suppression or lung disease, the land lies differently. What you experience as a sniffle, may be the cause of their death.
The coronavirus has a window period, which means you can be infected but not show any symptoms. We need to consider how that plays out in our public transport, those crammed trains and taxis; our workspaces; our malls, our cramped informal settlements; our old age homes; and our creches. Prevention is suddenly seen with new eyes.
In a world where so many people languish in various states of learned helplessness because they don’t believe their action makes a difference, here is a scenario where you matter. Immensely. Where your choice could be the reason somebody with a compromised immune system does not become infected. And all it requires, is your choice to isolate yourself for a little while.
So stay calm, avoid crowds, avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel. If there is a Covid-19 outbreak in your community, stay home to reduce your risk of being exposed.
Keep sensible supplies on hand, and ensure you have enough prescription medicines and groceries to last 14 days, which is the average length of isolation. Support local businesses by shopping with them online,
or ordering meals to be deliv-
And suddenly – the memes have changed. What is lighting up people’s phones and screens now are stories of what matters, most: people in Italy singing to one another across deserted streets; people pausing, to consider the impact, the ripple effect of their choices; and people protecting the most fragile in their communities, only to discover the paradox of this, being their collective strength.