This blog was updated on 30/04/20 to reflect some of the swift ongoing changes in the Covid-19 epidemic in SA.

The Coronavirus, which was officially declared a pandemic this week by WHO, has found its way to South Africa, causing an unprecedented nationwide lockdown. If you’re looking for ways to help during the coronavirus pandemic, please head to my blog #Coronacare – how to help those most affected by Covid-19 in SA. Otherwise read on to read some of the reasons why I chose to speak up on the topic, despite an increasingly noisy online space:

There has been a massive spread of fear-mongering, misinformation and fake news

From Whatsapp images in group chats to Fake News24 articles and Facebook posts, fake news about the virus has arguably been spreading faster than the virus itself and causing a lot of panic. Even South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) made an announcement about the first local transmission in South Africa which they later retracted. South African government has since made it illegal to create or share false news about Covid-19.

I’d suggest:

  • Get your information from proper sources only: The SA government resource portal,  the UCT Alumni Coronapp or World Health Organization (WHO) are good sources.
  • Don’t share random Facebook or WhatsApp messages that describe symptoms, supposed cures, incubation periods or ways of discovering if you have the virus. Just don’t.
  • Be wary of the language you use – We do not want to stoke unnecessary panic, spread false news or hate but we also want to be realistic and cautious at the seriousness of a pandemic.

Some people in SA are fobbing off the virus as nothing to really worry about forgetting it’s a privilege to do so

At the beginning of the spread, I did it too. I thought to myself “okay, the death rate is low” or “okay, I’m young and in good health, even if I get it I’ll most likely be fine.” But as the virus became more of a reality, I became aware of the fact that whilst I may well survive if I contract the disease, those who I come into contact with might not.

In truth, it is a privilege not to worry about the virus. It means you are in good health, you probably have access to things like running water to wash your hands frequently, healthy food and immune-boosting supplements, good health care, possibly you can even afford to work remotely or implement social distancing if necessary.

Whilst I agree we should not buy into panic, to say people must get perspective and just calm down or to say “don’t worry it’ll only hurt the vulnerable” is really an ableist and classist thing to do.

The panic buying is a problem

On that note, healthy people panic buying masks, soaps, and medicines and even stockpiling foods is problematic – albeit understandable, considering people do it as a way to quell anxiety. However, a chemist recently told my mom that the people who really need masks and medications won’t be able to get them now that everyone has bought more than they need “just in case”.

Also, when it comes to stockpiling soap, are we forgetting that in order to prevent the spread of the virus other people also need to have soap? #justsaying

Even stockpiling food can cause problems. I am not saying you can’t bulk buy or have some extra food in the cupboard. But the “me me me” mentality isn’t going to get us anywhere. Now – or in the future of climate and environmental disruption. I’d suggest only buying what you need and staying away from the shops for a few days after people receive their social grants to ensure that there is enough stock for those who need it most.

So is the racism – stop it!

You know the misreported case I mentioned earlier? Well, it turns out the South African government and some news sites reported this case as positive saying that a man from the Freestate had “come into contact with a Chinese businessman”. This is not only bad reporting but is a classic example of fueling unnecessary fear, racism and xenophobia which just like fake news, will spread faster than the virus. That brings me to the rest of us: please stop it with the racist slurs, jokes, memes, and conversations around the dinner table. Despite the fact that Europe, and now USA is the epicenter of the virus, it seems to continue. So, whatever ridiculous ignorant thing you think you know about Asian people and think you have the right to say, just stop it. There. Is. No. Excuse. To. Be. Racist. EVER! It starts with a slur and it ends in a hate crime. So just stop spreading the hate. Please.

 

The virus re-exposes existing inequalities in our world

In truth, if we are really worried about Coronavirus, we should have been just as worried about things like universal healthcare, eradication of poverty and righting the wrongs of things like apartheid spatial planning. Just like the effects of climate change, Coronavirus has the ability to severely impact more vulnerable communities like those in South Africa’s Townships. For example, there are many people who do not have access to running water, live from hand to mouth and so cannot stock up on food, do not have access to adequate health care or supplies and have no choice but to use public transport and go to work (often in service jobs). We also have high levels of TB and HIV which means an increased number of vulnerable people. Now that we’re on lockdown these inequalities are exposed even more so, with lockdown being calm and relaxing for some and incredibly dangerous and devastating for others.

Some people and establishments have been using the virus to promote their product or belief

From the vegan establishment that made a very misinformed and classist statement blaming meat-eaters for the virus, to Peta who tried to insist Covid-19 wouldn’t exist if the world were vegan, to the beauty salon who actually tried to sell me more anti-aging products to combat corona stress, none of this is okay.

People have been criticizing the response to the virus – saying that we need this kind of response to climate change and environmental degradation.

Very true but in my opinion not helpful right now. If we take from lessons learned from the Spanish Flu or the current experiences of places like China, South Korea, and Italy – this deserves attention and drastic measures in order to prevent the worst. Sure, Coronavirus doesn’t cancel climate change – but climate change is not a reason to be annoyed by the attention Coronavirus is getting – some even continuing to insensitively push climate messaging at this time.

We can, however, draw parallels between these two crises. Just like Covid-19, climate change affects everyone but it hurts the poor and vulnerable the most. We should also ask ourselves why we don’t panic about climate change and environmental breakdown, which is already causing significant suffering and death, in the same way we do an outbreak like this and if the lack of comparative media coverage has something to do with it.

In some ways, because this virus sees no class (Hey Tom Hanks!), the panic response from mostly white middle class/richer people, shows how we don’t react to things that can’t affect us – i.e climate change which doesn’t have ant direct consequence on us right now. All whilst Indigenous, black and brown people have been negatively affected by environmental racism and climate change for a very, very long time.

Maybe there is something positive we can take from this tragedy

For many people, the Coronavirus is and will be a tragedy. That deserves a great deal of support and empathy – and is something we should not lose sight of as we search for lessons to take.

Interestingly Coronavirus has already had a drastic effect on air pollution in China and the Guardian reported that it may cause a reduction in CO2 emissions due to the fact that entire economies have come to grinding halt. Some people have used this as a way to try and find a silver lining to this tragedy, being rather insensitive to the fact that real people are dying. Others have used this as an opportunity to say that humans are the virus, perpetuating the overpopulation myth or whispering to eco-fascist ideals.

I definitely don’t think there are any means to be thankful for the virus. But activist, illustrator and writer @ecowithem sums up a beautiful potential radical reframing of the Covid-19 pandemic. She rightly reflects how the current fear-based reaction to the pandemic is rooted in typical consumerist behaviour, and how we could use this outbreak as an opportunity to learn to pull together as communities to get away from the cliff edge we’ve been marching to. I’ve embedded the post below.

And also – In case you need some reminding:

  • WHO says it’s better to be overcautious – so as the crisis may escalate in SA, limit your travel and practice social distancing if you have the privilege to… or join the movement to #staythefuckhome (this isn’t just for you- if you’re healthy- but for limiting the spread to vulnerable people)
  • Wash your hands regularly (for at least 20 seconds) if you can – with soap. If you, or someone you know, don’t have access to running water daily, a homemade hand sanitizer containing more than 70% alcohol, some water/aloe/glycerine and tea tree or other anti-viral/anti-bacterial herbs like olive leaf can help!
  • Practice normal sneezing and coughing etiquette – i.e don’t be rude or gross

And here’s some advice from a healthcare professional on strengthening your immune system, if you can:

  • Add 30- 60 minutes of sleep to your routine (inadequate sleep weakens the immune system)
  • Drink water and remove sugary drinks and snacks from your diet (sugar weakens immunity)
  • Move more – Exercise improves Lymphatic flow and provides significant immunity benefits
  • Meditation and breathwork – reduces the stress response in the body and therefore improves Immunity
  • Consume adequate amounts of vitamin D3, make sure you aren’t b12 or iron deficient and add a multivitamin or immune booster like Echinacea to your routine