After news broke on Thursday that South Africa had its first positive case of Covid-19 in KwaZulu-Natal, there was a debate in parliament about it.
While the country geared up for defending itself against the virus, it was EFF MP Naledi Chirwa who, without giving in to panic, painted a description of the current situation, to indicate the country might not be as ready as it claims to be.
Chirwa, who took to the podium to address members of parliament, said the threat of Covid-19 should have everyone concerned.
“Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is adamant that the department of health is ready to tackle the virus. We know that this is not the truth as a mere seasonal flu claims the lives of 6,000 to 11,000 people per year.
“If your department cannot contain a mere flu from claiming the lives of our people, when there are preventative measures through vaccines and primary healthcare, what will you do to contain coronavirus?
“…and yet we have a supposedly functional and prepared department of health to counter a virus that has destabilised some of the strongest health systems in the world.
“If coronavirus can make a country like China build a hospital in weeks, and yet still claim thousands of lives, what do you think it will do to South Africa, that takes 10 years to build one dysfunctional maternity ward?
“Our population that has little access to internet and social media is subjected to the ignorance of ministers who have no shame in wearing incorrect masks, and tweeting about their ignorance with pride.”
A point of order by her fellow EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi to gain the attention of the health minister indicated a dire need for the country to consider the current situation with the seriousness it deserves.
This is not a joke or something to be ignorantly made into a meme to score some vain popularity poll on the socials.
What we all initially considered to be a fad has become a fierce adversary, which is growing fast.
Chirwa shined a light on some of our weaknesses as a country. Many of the country’s working class travel use public modes of transport. While airports may have adequate surveillance and security, we have many foreign nationals who unfortunately often enter the country unchecked.
Chirwa continued: “We have some using public transport on a daily basis who remain ignorant on the lurking threat that has now been confirmed to be in the country.
“The department must initiate an immediate mass media campaign … and do door-to-door campaigns. We know that this is possible as it is done during elections.
“The primary healthcare workforce, community health workers, must be trained for detection mechanisms. It will be a huge disgrace for the country that the very people who are tasked with easing health catastrophes will be at risk of infection and not be able to deliver health care.
“The department cannot claim to be ready when the only entry testing ports we have are at airports. The majority of our people use alternative modes of transport, and our country’s borders do not end or start at O R Tambo International airport, more so because the coronavirus is not contained by the imaginary borders.”
Some potent questions by Chirwa were: “What tracking mechanism has the department devised for townships and rural area public spaces?
“How will you track down taxi passengers and train passengers who were sitting next to an infected person?”
These are solid questions for a country that claims to be ready for a virus that for most of last year was nonexistent.
Chirwa is right on so many levels of her politically motivated speech. The country does need a definite plan of action, which includes all parties coming together to fight a foe we have never seen before. From the private sector to agriculture and the hospitality industry, we need to come together to focus our strengths on combating what may be the end to some people’s lives.
No, do not panic but do start thinking.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country should not panic as government was well prepared for the virus. Even if that rings true, we still had a man from Italy come through customs and then go to a doctor for a check-up. What if he was like some men who say “it’s nothing, it’ll blow over” when the flu-like symptoms crept in?
We need to stop reacting to the matter and take proactive steps to stay ahead.
In the soon-to-be-famous words of Chirwa: “If coronavirus can make a country like China build a hospital in weeks, and yet still claim thousands of lives, what do you think it will do to South Africa, that takes 10 years to build one dysfunctional maternity ward?”
The country needs to wake up and take some things seriously before thousands die.