Coronavirus – not something to be ‘sneezed at’

Plagues and pestilence are no laughing matter – they’re certainly not to be sneezed at – but it’s difficult not to wonder if there isn’t just a hint of hysterical giddiness (and hypocrisy) about the Coronavirus sweeping the globe.

That is, everywhere but here where we are told we’ve got nothing to worry about. Leave it to the trolls in the nether reaches of the Twittersphere though to remind us that our combination of a compromised public health care system and a public with a compromised health left us vulnerable to being taken out by something as innocuous as polony two years ago.

The world has survived a variety of super bugs; from Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS (both before and after the Rogue Unit), MER from the Middle East, Ebola from Central Africa and Zika from Brazilian mosquitoes. Many have gone on to spawn horror movies but thankfully we keep on emerging, relatively unscathed; it’s just seems to be the hype that increases unabated. Many are correctly bemoaning this; more people have died in South Africa from interpersonal violence or in road accidents since December than the number from the Coronavirus.

HIV and Aids are no longer regarded as a death sentence in this country, thanks to the incredible efforts that have been put in through private public partnerships over the last 25 years, but rather as a manageable chronic disease. Yet in 2018, according to Stats SA, 115 167 South Africans alone died – 22% of all our recorded deaths that year – from Aids related deaths. 13 years before, the death toll was almost triple that at 289 833.

In comparison, by late this week the global death toll from the Coronavirus stood at 3 286. There had been 95 483 cases worldwide, of which 53 688 people had fully recovered, while 38 509 were currently infected. Shelves in shops in countries like Britain and Australia have been stripped bare by citizens panic buying whatever tinned food they can lay their hands on to ‘self-isolate’; Italy has closed all its schools in a bid to isolate the virus. In other countries, if someone who even looks faintly Chinese coughs in a crowded place, the venue empties faster than FNB Stadium after a rugby test. Here at home, as cartoonist Zapiro suggested this week, Jacob Zuma might self-isolate for the foreseeable duration of his corruption trial

Across the world people have become so paranoid about contact transmission, that they aren’t even shaking hands. In the north, hypochondriacs hiding behind surgical masks show their naked racism by wondering why we in Africa haven’t been hit by a rash of infections yet.

In the meantime, the only advice the medics can give is to wash your hands thoroughly or as one wag put it, borrowing from Shakespeare’s Macbeth; “wash your hands like you’ve just convinced your husband to murder the true King of Scotland!” Shouldn’t we be doing that already, flu or no flu? While we’re at it, we can stop killing animals that we shouldn’t be eating in the first place, like pangolins – or rhinos.

Originally published on the 7 March 2020 in the Saturday Star