Slavish protocol that can kill
Frightening images of entire regions being closed by order of the Chinese government raises the question: if something similar happened in South Africa, does the country have the capacity to take such action? Chinese cities consisting of about 56 million people have been corralled.
If a virus was discovered in KwaZulu-Natal, could the entire region be declared out of bounds and residents not allowed to travel in or out? Does the government have the authority or capacity to issue such an order? What form could mass panic take?
There’s no question that South Africa has the capacity and laboratory facilities to detect such viruses and offer first-world medical care on a small scale. Could it bring this to bear on its entire population, many of whom don’t have access to such care? If we can’t get our municipalities to function properly, what chance would there be that a government edict ordering people to stay at home would be implemented?
Previous viruses have devastated huge sections of the global population. The great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 caused about 50 million deaths, more than the deaths from combat casualties in World War I.
Prior to 1914, few people travelled long distances, limiting the spread of infectious diseases. Conditions have changed since then. It’s unlikely the Spanish flu pandemic would be repeated. With an increase in travel and improvements in healthcare, there are few enclaves where people aren’t at least partly protected by their own immunity resulting from regular exposure to seasonal influenza or vaccination. If a new flu virus emerged and spread globally, there would be fewer susceptible people to facilitate its spread into an aggressive pandemic. Medicines such as antibiotics exist to help prevent its spread and treat complications.
However, an event like the coronavirus casts away the image of the human population as discreet pieces, and replaces it with the notion that we’re all together on this planet we call earth. On a more personal level, the current virus makes every Chinese person unfairly suspect, with restaurants which serve Chinese food being looked at differently: have the waiters, assumed to be of Chinese descent, visited that country recently?
In South Africa, the World Health Organization reported in December 2008 that doctors had isolated and contained a new strain of Old World arenavirus with the help of the pathogens unit at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. The rapid response was crucial in halting the outbreak.
Of major concern to many in South Africa is that the traditionally strict protocol in the nursing industry is waning. Have you been in hospital lately where you were aware of a laxity in medical procedures, slow attention to your needs, or simply nurses with long, painted fingernails? If an outbreak did occur, could the mass of nursing and medical staff be relied upon to do what’s necessary?
This brings us back to the issue that has been spoken about endlessly: it’s essential that people should be able to trust any government-controlled system to implement policies. Those in authority must have the backing to fire people who cannot or will not do their jobs properly, in spite of pressure from unions. It could mean the difference between life and death.