At midnight tonight, we go into lockdown. This is a first in our nation’s history. We’re in uncharted territory.
Our situation is surreal. In a matter of weeks, the ordinary and predictable has given way to the extraordinary and unprecedented. Never in the history of our nation have we had to take such massive decisions in so short a time with so many unknowns against such invisible yet deadly a threat.
And yet we have a plan. And it is a good one if we all, or at least the vast majority of us, get on board.
There are still so many unanswered questions, but we know the most important thing about this virus: it cannot survive if it cannot spread.
And that is the essence of our plan: to act now, together in unison, to stay physically apart from other households to break the chains of infection.
In this moment of great need, President Ramaphosa has produced a bold, credible plan. This 21-day lockdown may appear to some to be “overkill”, but it is based on the premise that the sooner we act to suppress this virus the better, and that strong measures today for a limited, doable amount of time will save millions of lives and possibly even millions of rands down the line.
The strategy is to fight it hard now while it is still in its infancy, and get the better of it before it gets the better of us. Even if we don’t manage to stamp out this virus completely with this lockdown, we buy ourselves precious time. The world has never learned as fast about any other disease, ever. Humanity will know a lot more about this virus in three weeks’ time than it does now.
You may disagree with it, but the time for debate about our overall strategy is over. We have a plan and now it’s down to the implementation.
Make no mistake. This plan comes at a massive, immediate socioeconomic cost. Which is all the more reason that we cannot afford to fail on implementation.
Every single one of us has a role to play. While many of us may feel powerless in the face of this emerging threat, in fact every one of us has the power to break possible chains of infection. And not only the power but the civic duty and legal imperative to do so.
This virus will not survive if we deny it new hosts.
No one could have guessed we’d be called to go into battle barefoot and in dressing gowns, and yet that is what is being asked of most of us now. Stay at home. Our most powerful weapons in this fight are patience, cooperation, self-discipline – and soap. We all need to rise to the challenge of deploying these liberally.
This is a temporary break in our freedoms, not a permanent one.
For the millions of South Africans living in cramped conditions, giving up those freedoms will be an extraordinary challenge and sacrifice. Others are lucky to have more spacious homes. We should all try to find the opportunity in this. This can be a chance to read the books we’ve been meaning to read, watch the films we’ve been meaning to watch, clear out the unused stuff in our cupboards, get our affairs in order, sleep, start a programme of morning push-ups or stretching.
For parents, this is a chance to spend time with our children, to take the time to play games with them, read to them, really listen to them.
This is an extraordinary time calling for extraordinary kindness, compassion, forbearance, patience. For slowing down. For thinking of all those we know and helping them to the other side in any way we can.
Our economic activity does not have to come to a complete stop. Much work can be done and some services can be delivered remotely. This is an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things. Ways that may turn out to be much easier on ourselves and the living world on which our lives ultimately depend. Hopefully we will emerge from this crisis more resilient and more united than before. Never has it been more apparent that we need to cooperate and work together, even as we stay physically apart.
Now more than ever we need clear, unambiguous communication from government. I have written to President Ramaphosa suggesting he convenes a daily press conference where he addresses the nation and answers questions, as we have seen in other countries. This will go a long way to providing clarity and stability in a time of great distress and confusion.
Everyone will have their opinions. But our democratically elected head of state has delivered us a plan that can work if we stick to it. This is the most important message to take away as we go into lockdown: stick to the plan.