It’s been almost two years of living in a Covid-19 world and South Africans have been surfing four waves of variants, some deadly, including Beta and Delta, and presently Omicron under some of the most stringent lock down rules and protocols.
Throughout this period, the government has been consistent only in sending out conflicting, confusing and often downright misleading information on how to deal with this perceived threat to our lives and livelihoods.
The scaremongering, fear and anxiety that South Africans were subjected to at the beginning of the pandemic, far outweighed the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of healthy citizens, which resulted in a number of suicides and an increase in cases of domestic violence as more and more people fell into depression while others joined the unemployment queues.
For example in 2020, more than one million deaths were predicted but just over 40 000 fatalities were as a result of Covid-19. In almost two years of the pandemic, the death toll stands at 92 000.
A study by a team of international researchers found that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in depressive and anxiety disorders in women more than in men. “This was anticipated because women are more likely to be affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic,” said author Professor Charles Shey Wiysonge of UCT and a director at the South African Medical Research Council.
It all began in March 2020, three months after the Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) about a cluster of ‘viral pneumonia’ cases of unknown cause in the city of Wuhan.
The first confirmed case was announced by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on March 5, 2020. The patient was a 38-year-old male who had travelled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group of 10 people who returned to South Africa on March 1, 2020.
For months the identity of those who “brought” the virus to South Africa was kept secret. The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was established, "to lead the nation's plan to contain the spread and mitigate the negative impact of the coronavirus". This was said to be a temporary structure.
However, almost two years into the lockdown, the NCCC seems to be running the country. Ramaphosa consults with it and not his cabinet when he wants to impose stricter lockdowns or to relax them.
Rather than subject the first group of people from Italy to quarantine as per protocols, instead when it became clear that the infections were starting to spread - President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the country under its first lockdown under level 5 for 21 days and deployed the army.
This harsh measure destroyed many SMMEs and brought more hunger into the lives of the poor.
Many businesses shut down completely as people were told to stay indoors, and not even take a walk to exercise or walk their dogs outside of their homes.
All non-essential businesses were shut down, cigarettes and alcohol sales banned, parents found themselves unable to buy clothes for their newborns and the government had to be threatened with court action, before it eased the restrictions.
Strangely, the first group of people to endure the mandatory quarantine period were the 122 South Africans who were evacuated from China and had to spend two weeks at the Ranch Resort, a quarantine resort outside of Polokwane under a heavy military guard, while those from Italy were spared a similar fate.
When some communities started defying the lockdown regulations, the National Defence Force acted with an iron fist and within weeks of their operations, 40-year-old Collins Khoza was assaulted and killed during a crackdown in Alexandra, north of Joburg.
Khoza’s death brought to nine the number of people killed by the police and soldiers for allegedly violating the national lockdown regulations including drinking alcohol, not wearing a mask or breaking the curfew, within a few weeks of the regulations.
In Gauteng, the provincial health department commissioned the digging of 1,5 millions graves amid dire predictions that the pandemic that would lead to health facilities being swamped by the sick, and that thousands if not millions would perish.
At the same time, the provincial health allocated a budget for the building of a makeshift emergency health facility at Nasrec to deal with overflows from hospitals that didn’t have the capacity to deal with the influx of Covid-19 cases.
On March 27, 2020, it was reported that there were a total of 1170 Covid-19 cases in South Africa. At the time, there was also one Covid-19-related death.
But the number of Covid-related deaths during the first wave never even exceeded 50 000, contrary to what local scientists and politicians had predicted claiming that this was based on science.
Other deadlier diseases with higher numbers of fatalities such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and Aids-related illnesses took a back seat as the focus shifted to Covid-19, a decision that has come back to haunt SA as last year saw one of the highest HIV-infection rates among teenagers.
Over the two years, we have seen a rise and fall in Covid-19 cases and the government and scientists have been resolute in their belief that all Covid-19 protocols including curfews and lockdowns, were effective in preventing the transmission of the virus, hospitalisation and/or deaths.
That is before vaccines became available in South Africa and were punted as the only way to beat the pandemic. But then with Omicron, the latest message is that two shots are not good enough, hence the government has started administering booster shots for health workers.
Back in March 2020, the WHO announced that the use of masks on healthy people was only necessary for people “taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection”.
However, three months later it made a U-turn and said “in light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there was widespread transmission and physical distance is difficult, such as in public transport in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.”
South Africa has been following the WHO Covid-19 protocols religiously and face mask mandates are still in force, and thousands of people are reported to have been arrested since the beginning of the lockdown for infringement of the rules. An admission of guilt carries a fine of R1500.
On the other hand, Nick Hudson, the co-founder of PANDA ( Pandemic Data Analytics) who has always challenged the popular Covid-19 narrative and statistics, is adamant that almost all studies supporting cloth mask use were of low evidentiary value, and most exhibited signs of bias.
But his views and those of PANDA are ignored by the mainstream media; instead he has come under attack and criticism from media organisations that are sponsored by vaccine manufacturers among other vested interests.
Also, at the beginning of the pandemic it was said that transmission of Covid-19 was by droplets and fomites. However, this information has been found to lack scientific evidence because a lack of positive viral cultures suggests that the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through fomites is low.
Hudson has reported that the most comprehensive study to date, by the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, found no evidence supporting droplet and fomite transmission. Airborne aerosol transmission has the most evidentiary support, as for other respiratory viruses, the study has found, he said.
Recently vaccination mandates have also faced criticism in the face of the fact that the SA government is in the process of introducing mandatory vaccination certificates for access to public buildings.
According to Health Minister Joe Phaahla, the health department will issue vaccine certificates or passports to fully vaccinated people, which businesses will be able to use to restrict access to venues based on people’s vaccination status.
While some private companies including a Bank, have started to enforce this controversial policy, many people have lost their jobs for refusing the experimental jabs .
The question of safety and efficacy of vaccines has also been challenged by many scientists including some from South Africa, but the government insists that vaccines are, “so safe that nobody should hesitate to take one” and that no Covid-19 vaccine deaths have been officially reported or confirmed in this country, as a result.
Yet another lack of consistency, is that just in December 2021, the director-general of health announced major changes to Covid policy, and four days later made a stunning U-turn:
The initial statement said: “Contacts of people who tested positive would no longer need to be quarantined. The health department would stop tracing the contacts of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. With some caveats, people who tested positive for Covid-19 would have to isolate for eight days, down from ten”.
The announcement contained an impractical demand that positive people wear a mask at all times at home. It had also recommended isolation be reduced to five days based on what it said was, science.
Then a week later the health department withdrew its new policy. The reasons were unclear, but it stated that: “Thus, in line with the principles of transparency and openness, the department has decided to put the implementation of the revised policy changes on hold, while taking all additional comments and inputs received into consideration. This means the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation remain applicable.”
This inconsistency has been a trend over the almost two years of lockdowns and restrictions.
During this time, the courts have been kept busy by companies, individuals and civil society challenging some of the regulations that clearly threaten our civil liberties and democracy.