Coronavirus: Why South Africa is coming out of lockdown – BBC Newsnight

published on July 20, 2020

it seemed inevitable in a land of furious inequality and habitual misrule the virus was always going to cause chaos here in south africa how could it possibly be otherwise

Never before in the history of our democracy as our country being confronted with such a severe situation in the overcrowded townships around johannesburg news of

Covid 19's arrival the first confirmed case was march the 5th prompted dread in their single room in alexandria shelby and nicolas machabee had little hope that a neglectful state

Would come to their rescue we are going to struggle because here it's my neighbor if i catch it it's going to catch it everyone they're going to catch it so

We are in a very big danger those fears were are understandable neighborhoods sharing taps and toilets people already weakened by malnutrition and illness but south africa had

An advantage it had time weeks to watch the virus spread around the rest of the world and to watch other countries mistakes now the government here has a hard-earned reputation

For dithering for being all talk but last month it took a firm decision to act early and aggressively and so just 10 days after that first case south africa declared a state of

Disaster schools and restaurants would be closed foreign travel tightly restricted all done much quicker than britain we knew what we had to do the problem i

Have felt when i looked at what was going on in the uk is that they were not clear about what they were trying to do because i was getting mixed signals at this stage in south africa the virus

Was spreading slowly wealthier travelers who brought it back from abroad were getting privately tested and because this is such a polarized society those who were infected

Didn't really rub shoulders with poorer people the difference between the uk and south africa really i think is the inequality we got an outbreak among the more wealthy people who had brought

The virus back with them on planes from europe or and elsewhere and in a normal country they would have mingled with the population but here exactly but soon south africa did start to see

An exponential rise just like britain although here the government was already reacting much quicker imposing a lockdown just eight days after recording the hundredth infection

The uk waited 18 days a week in this epidemic is a disaster if you don't know what you're doing if you vacillate for one week you're in trouble and south africa's

Lockdown was far stricter too enforced by soldiers no leaving the house except to buy food a total ban on alcohol sales to prevent drink from fuelling violence

And filling up hospital beds in alexandria township the machabele family learned that a neighbor had tested positive but here's the thing that steep curve that exponential rise well

It kept going in britain but here on the 26th of march it suddenly almost miraculously broke dipping sharply and then leveling off until that day south africa and britain

Had been following an identical path literally on the 26th the month just turned and went all the way back down initially when we saw the two lines separate

We thought oh oh we have a problem in that we're not testing enough we're not finding cases surely we're on the same trajectory as the uk

But soon more tests confirmed the slowdown was genuine community community the department of health is here the reason clearly was that south africa's early

Interventions were now paying off and the next stage was equally impressive because it spent years dealing with hiv and tb this country already has an army of some

30 000 community health workers they've now screened more than three million people for the new virus that is why we're able to to to organize all these testing drives to try and be

As proactive as possible because if you become reactive you will only be catching the disease at the tail end nicholas and his family were tested too all

Negative for now but he's lost his job as an electrician and five weeks of lockdown have been grim as they have been for millions of poorer south africans

For now to be to be quite honest with you i don't have any plan and how does that make you feel you're struggling i'm very stressed i'm very stressed i'm very stressed which helps explain why tomorrow south

Africa will start to ease its lock down there is the tantalizing possibility that a population so much younger than britain's may shrug off this virus but in the meantime there's an economy

To rescue our people needs to eat they need to earn a living and so a five-stage strategy has now been published explaining how in theory the nation can

Be nudged towards normality perhaps by year's end so yes south africa has played a blinder so far particularly the president but lower

Down the ranks the key institutions that are going to have to keep waging this battle against the virus for months to come have been weakened by years of corruption

And cronyism in other words south africa is not out of the woods yet south africa is known for political inefficiency and corruption there's a lot of

Meetings happening there's a lot of people talking a lot of powerpoint presentations being given but sometimes there's a lack of action on the ground

So plenty of uncertainty ahead here just look at this massive queue for food handouts near pretoria and as the lockdown softens the near certainty that the infection rate

Will start to climb

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