When your anti-Covid plan is like trying to survive a fire by spitting on yourself

I'm glad explaining what exactly we have been trying to achieve in the long run over the past few months will never be my job.


Yesterday I was a bit hungry so I pulled in to Campus Square in Auckland Park to see how lunch in lockdown might work.

I didn’t feel like a pie from Pick n Pay (and wasn’t even sure if they’re allowed to sell those now) so I stood outside Roman’s Pizza where a sign on the glass informed me I could only order through Uber Eats. I opened the app and placed my order.

While I was waiting for a man in a Toyota Corolla to drive from the other side of Melville to come and facilitate my pizza transfer for me, a man next to me seemed to be in a small battle with his own iPhone.

He caught my eye and pleaded for help.

Eventually, after five minutes, we figured out the reason his order from Chicken Licken wasn’t being accepted was that he hadn’t yet confirmed his account.

I advised him to check for an email link from Uber Eats. But he didn’t know how to check emails on his phone, so he went back to his office to pursue his next step in an increasingly epic quest to buy a chicken cheese burger.

My Corolla driver, Eddie, arrived, parked, went in to the shop and was handed two boxes of pizza.

Eddie then gave them to me, pointing out that both pizzas were mine, because I’d bought some kind of lunch special without realising.

I asked Eddie how many of his “deliveries” of food were to people standing right there in the malls or outside other restaurants in the street.

“Oh, about 90%,” he told me. (It was just as well that I had that second pizza on me because there are a lot of suddenly far hungrier people out there in this world who needed it a lot more than me; so I was soon parted from it.)

Someone told me yesterday she saw so many delivery guys in McDonald’s that she thought it had opened to the public earlier – and you can only wonder what else they might have been delivering to people with that Happy Meal.

So many sudden absurdities have swallowed our existence now more completely than a macrophage gobbling a virus. Soon, we will even be allowing people to go to church (but not on to a tennis court).

I was in Soweto a week ago and thought I’d walked into an open-air carnival – or gone back in time – because everyone was out and about and the kids were even wrestling in the street. I couldn’t drive at more than 20km/h because I would have killed about five people.

When I asked a friend in Soweto how she thinks the lockdown there is going, she answered (rather predictably, it must be said): “What lockdown?”

In the meantime, we’ve been fighting about cigarettes, open-toed shoes, whether you can buy a cooked chicken from Woolies, walk on a beach all by yourself or whatever other bizarre laws were dreamt up in the utter delusion that “the country” was ever in lockdown to begin with.

Obviously if there had been a real lockdown (or at least something genuinely successful or sustainable), we may have dared to believe we could bring the reproductive (R0) rate of the coronavirus down to below one, and then manage the spread of the virus from there with an aggressive testing strategy and track-and-trace.

But that was never a real possibility, and we now have to accept the explanation that our “lockdown” was merely about buying time and delaying the rise of Mount Bodies below the escarpment of the living.

The thing that seems more than obvious to me now is that the primary goal the early stages of our lockdown may have achieved was to delay (welcomingly so) the spread of the virus into informal settlements – because once that started to take off, what exactly would we do then? (aside from just hoping the country doesn’t run out of beds and ventilators too rapidly).

In fairness, I think delaying the spread in townships was partly achieved, and some luck may have played a part in that.

I’m not sure I believe much in the old Republican idea of “trickle-down economics”, but this virus was definitely a rich(er) man’s disease to start with. It was brought to us by that small proportion of South Africans and foreign travellers with the means to fly to other countries for tourism and business. So locking down the richer, more formal suburbs and areas was a sensible thing to do, even though some of our enforcements smacked of double standards to some.

And no one could come right out and say this was the “strategy”, if anyone had even thought that far to begin with.

Based on some of the country’s new emerging data, the dreaded virus has now certainly trickled down to some of the poorest areas in our country. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and the thought of what awaits us next is beyond chilling in this, our first true week of winter.

And, truth be told, many of those silly regulations between the start of this absurd theatrical performance of lockdown and now have been a bit like advising someone caught in a forest fire to try spitting on himself.

Obviously their “logic” looks even less great now since our leaders will shortly be allowing “deadly things” like buying booze, now, when the virus is about to actually start killing people in greater numbers.

So we will have to find a way to retrospectively justify why we were we banning all these things in the months when the hospital wards, beds and quarantine sites stood eerily empty in anticipation of supposedly statistically inescapable fate – but we’re cool with them now.

I’m glad explaining all that will never have to be my job.

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