It is now up to you to decide through your actions and your sense of responsibility – both to yourself and perhaps more importantly to others – just how safe you would like to be.
Not even three months ago, I would have been laughed at had I even dare suggest that we would all be wearing masks and that you would be asked to stay at home for months on end. Then the first case of COVID-19 appeared on our shores, and within weeks we were all in Level 5 lockdown. Since then, our government has relaxed some of the lockdown restrictions with more relaxations to follow over the coming weeks.
Restaurants will be reopening. Cinemas will be reopening. The economy is open. Surely, this is a time to rejoice and celebrate and just get on with life. Yet the number of reported cases surges. At the time of writing, South Africa had just over 100 000 cases (and some 2 000 deaths) with a combined worldwide total of just over 9 million (and about 472 000 deaths).
Masks have become a common sight as people increasingly venture out of their homes, despite some showing complete disregard for them, or wearing them incorrectly. Social distancing is slowly being ignored and for many, life is slowly returning to normal or perhaps a kind of ‘new’ normal. Following the calm before the storm, doctors are now reporting a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and daily COVID-19-related deaths in ICUs have become the norm.
Some countries are even experiencing ‘second waves’ of the pandemic.
The world is begging for change. Protests in the USA and elsewhere are exposing the continued scourge of racial, gender and other prejudices. President Donald Trump’s support base is being eroded despite maintaining a base of die-hard followers. Closer to home, the mistrust, the lack of faith in and the rebuke of the powers that be yet again resonates. Change, if not radical change, is already coming. Defunding entire police departments and tearing down statues are mere examples.
Perhaps the novel coronavirus is the modern-day version of a world war bringing about sweeping change throughout the world. It certainly seems to cost just as much − if not more − both in terms of human lives and economic cost. Not too long ago, I argued about how economic hardship itself can translate into lost years. I think many will agree that we cannot go back to a ‘hard’ lockdown − we simply cannot afford it. But the world needs change, too.
Where does that leave us? We are entering a phase in which each person is being tasked with the responsibility of protecting himself or herself. Government-imposed lockdowns are being lifted and some are pushing for a complete return to life as we knew it before the pandemic; the proverbial ‘old’ normal. Sadly, social inequality will dictate that some may be able to better protect themselves while others, the less fortunate and the more daring, may assume greater risk merely to survive. People will display a wide spectrum of behaviour from overly cautious to reckless and flippant. I know of people who are too scared to step out of their homes, while others are flouting the existence of the virus and doing everything possible to continue with life as normal.
Why all the fuss? I mean we drive cars knowing that an accident or hijacking can take our lives. We ignore our health today knowing that there is a risk of contracting a disease later. We partake in sports and recreational activities knowing that we may sustain life-changing injuries. We are routinely used to making decisions in the face of certain risks. But we also in the habit of routinely dismissing many of the risks that our decisions inherently carry. Every decision carries some trade-off, some risk, some sacrifice. Every decision carries some ramification, the very definition of a decision.
But not every decision carries the risk, no matter how small, of losing your life.
While the economy must remain open, we still need to protect ourselves, our families, our loved ones, our colleagues, and the most vulnerable members of our society. While we must come together, march forward and simultaneously bring about positive change in the world, we must continue to do so responsibly. It is now up to you!
AUTHOR | Dr Mitan Nana CA(SA), MCom (Wits), MBBCh (Wits), Medical Doctor and Chartered Accountant based in Cape Town