We all took the precautions and had accepted and understood the pandemic and the risks. The next question that came up was how long are we going to be in lockdown? What is it going to look like afterwards? We could not exit the lockdown the way we had entered it, overnight. It would have to be a gradual release.
In South Africa we have been somewhere from the middle to the end of the pandemic path around the world. That gives us the advantage of seeing what other countries are doing or not doing. Luckily that has been helping us.
The New Normal
The world had to minimise the spread until we either had a vaccine or enough people were immune. Estimates are that it was going to take at least a year to achieve this. The graph below and comment from Morgan Stanley explains the US scenario “While we understand the desire for optimism, we also caution that the US outbreak is far from over. Recovering from this acute period in the outbreak is just the beginning and not the end. We believe the path to re-opening the economy is going to be long.”
European countries started lifting restrictions and Germany was leading the way in lifting restrictions partially. The pressure to reopen the economy in South Africa has reached a breaking point. People have started losing hope and are desperate to know how will we get back to normal and how quickly can we do it.
The Levels of Lockdown
A few days after the economic stimulus package announcement Cyril Ramaphosa was back. He explained the risk adjusted strategy that will be followed. Once again the leadership was delivering in an impressive way. It looked like a well thought out and comprehensive plan being delivered timeously. The final details were to be completed in consultation with business. It was not a quick exit though and depended entirely on controlling the transmission rate.
The risk adjusted strategy looked similar to one that New Zealand had implemented. It consisted of 5 levels of decreasing lockdown restriction with Level 5 being the full lockdown we were currently under. We were going to go into Level 4 which was only slightly milder than Level 5 based on indications from President Ramaphosas speech. Cigarettes and alcohol would be limited but available. We could exercise and food deliveries were allowed. But then things started to change after “consultation”
The final amendments to the disaster act gazetted on 29 April were different. Suddenly cigarettes and alcohol were no longer going to be available. Exercise was restricted to 6-9am with a 5km radius of your home. Hardware stores were going to be opened so that was a fantastic surprise for our industry.
The Growing Discontent
Despite some of the restrictions being lifted there were still many silly restrictions in place that didn’t make sense like stopping surfers from surfing and being able to buying clothes but not underwear. The pedantic rules in place were not at all appreciated.
More concerning was the way in which the government seemed to be enforcing these. The public grew has continued to grow resistant and a beach protest being organized demonstrated this. In a well put open letter to the President from Gareth Cliff he sums up what many people are feeling, “You have to start letting our people go Mr President, or this plague will be the least of our worries”.
New Information = Changing Views
The problem is that the as the coronavirus epidenmic evolves new information becomes available and we learn more about its effects. The Financial Times Coronavirus latest page is an excellent resource to track the pandemic.
The initial decisions were taken based on information at the time and most people went along with it. But it seemed like the government was just moving too slowly. The hospitals were now ready, PPE secured additional facilities constructed and large scale testing in place. The public are all wearing face masks outside and our infection rate was more like South Korea rather than western countries.
I too have started changing my view about how we should be dealing with this going forward. The initial lockdown was understandable but we had to exit this at a faster pace with less silly rules. People are acutely aware of the risks now. The government must trust businesses, allow them to reopen and implement the necessary health protocols. Here are 5 key facts why the lockdowns had to end, “The data is in — stop the panic and end the total isolation”.
Fact 1: The overwhelming majority of people do not have any significant risk of dying from COVID-19
Fact 2: Protecting older, at-risk people eliminates hospital overcrowding
Fact 3: Vital population immunity is prevented by total isolation policies, prolonging the problem.
Fact 4: People are dying because other medical care is not getting done due to hypothetical projections.
Fact 5: We have a clearly defined population at risk who can be protected with targeted measures.
It seemed like some governments like ours where not reassessing their strategy and making changes. Maybe they are scared to change for fear of looking incompetent, maybe they don’t know what else to do? All countries are facing the same dilemma and similar problems to South Africa.
In the US there is huge debate in the state of Georgia as people have divergent views on reopening their businesses. Some businesses choosing to voluntarily stay closed because the risk is too high. In the UK there are calls for clarity on how they will exit the lockdown as there seems to be no plan.
The initial crisis of pandemic containment has now been dealt with. The rate of infection and deaths around the world have started to decline. The next crisis is how to exit these lockdowns in a fast and controlled way. Once again unchartered territory, everybody has a view but nobody knows for sure.
So which camp are you in, lockdown or freedom?