Keep calm and keep the economy going

On Sunday night President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the performance of his career to date. The 90-minute delay beforehand did threaten to eclipse the announcement, but in the end the man lampooned for having no backbone had a TV moment that was second only to Nelson Mandela in 1992.

Sadly, not everyone got the memo. Panic buying started at pace on Monday, once again with a run on toilet paper, bizarre given that the symptoms of Covid 19 are flu-like: runny nose and fever – not dysentery.

The president even demonstrated how to greet people with his elbow (and unwittingly became a music video). Yet, as one meme circulating this week pointed out: “to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, people who need to sneeze are advised to do so into the crook of their arm. People have instead started stockpiling toilet paper… which proves the long-held theory that they don’t know their arse from their elbow.”

The same kind of people are feverishly preparing to self-isolate – even though they aren’t sick.

You can imagine the president banging his head on his desk in the Union Buildings.

All those who can afford to – and it’s all about affording – are taking to the hills figuratively – and then it’s a short hop to social media to start trolling any company that has the temerity to stay open in these trying times.

That’s not what the president meant. What he did mean is that we have to take drastic steps to ensure we slow down the rate of infection so that the health services (private and public) aren’t overwhelmed when the virus peaks here.

What he meant was that we have to keep the economy going, so that there’s still jobs to go to (for those who have them) when we come out on the other side of this unprecedented crisis which we will.

What he meant was that not everyone can even afford toilet paper or hand-sanitiser, even less self-isolate in a crowded matchbox house or shanty or keep 1.6-m away from the passengers in a taxi or bus.

This is the one time we shouldn’t be running for the hills. We should be learning how to master saying hello without being able to shake hands or give that half hug. We should be remembering what we should never have forgotten in Grade R – how to wash our hands with soap and water (maybe next week we can progress to cutting shapes and colouring in).

It’s great that so many companies have jumped on the Thuma Mina bandwagon, closing their doors all by themselves – until someone does the maths and asks what happens if the go-slow lasts longer than a month?

Earlier this week Virgin was talking of putting its staff on eight weeks’ unpaid leave, other carriers are looking at doing the same. That’s understandable since air traffic will be the hardest hit; they’re high pressure petri dishes.  Not everyone is in the same boat. If we carry on though, we will be. It’s time for a hard reset on the toilet paper, self-isolation and knee jerk panic – before we’re literally up shit creek.

Originally published on 21 March 2020 in the Saturday Star