We will defeat Covid-19 if we work together

Last night President Ramaphosa announced tough but necessary measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 infections in South Africa.

Our priority as a nation must be to limit the spread of the disease to the general population, and particularly to vulnerable communities where measures such as social distancing or self-isolation are impractical. The failure to do so would have a catastrophic impact on the millions of South Africans living below the poverty line, without access to proper sanitation and quality healthcare.

It would be equally catastrophic for the many South Africans who suffer from illnesses that compromise their immune and respiratory systems, such as HIV/AIDS and TB, and place them in the high-risk category if they contract Covid-19.

It is especially for these South Africans that we cannot afford to approach the Covid-19 pandemic with complacency any longer.

Instead of dwelling on what should have been done, it is now up to all South Africans to unite against this threat.

In the coming days and weeks, the full impact of the measures announced by the President will become evident. This extends far beyond the health and social impact, with the economic impact undoubtedly of great concern.

Numerous industries will be impacted in the coming months, either directly as in the case of the tourism industry, or indirectly such as those businesses that rely on imported raw materials from countries that are facing similar challenges.

As businesses are forced to make difficult operational decisions, I would urge them to show compassion for their employees and assist them where possible to weather the storm that lies before us.

Where businesses need to temporarily shut down, put staff on short-time, grant additional leave, or allow workers to attend to family matters in the light of schools closing, let us work together to manage the impact this has on productivity, as well as a lost income for employers and employees. 

Similarly, government needs to take the lead in engaging the banking sector about the financial impact this will have, especially regarding loan payments, and identify measures to ease this burden. Let us put fear and panic aside and approach the pandemic in a rational and considered manner based on best practice and the medical knowledge available to us.

Limiting the spread of the coronavirus and its impact requires a collective effort from government, the private sector and civil society. Our country and its people face a challenge, the likes of which we have never faced before. 

In our past we have shown our resolve, resilience and ability to rise together above the challenges we face. This is what we need to do again now.