10 April 2020
DEAR MR PRESIDENT…
THE COST OF SAVING LIVES AT ALL COST
I have written an open letter to you dated 5 April urging you to lift the lock down with immediate effect. Last night you have extended it by two weeks, for now…
Please allow me to summarize the essence of my letter:
- By imposing the initial three week lock down, we have taken the very maximum doses of medicine (with extreme side effects), only intended for when the symptoms are much more serious. We have emptied our ammunition before the enemy got properly in range.
- Obviously the reasoning is to get a hold on it and limit the numbers asap and to so call, “flatten the curve”. Problem is, we are not flattening it, we are deferring it, and when the time comes that we need to flatten it, we will have no means left to do it. We must accept that we cannot legislate Covid-19 out of existence. Yes, it may have a slight breaking effect, but the cost of an unsophisticated broad based lock down vs its effectiveness in South Africa, makes it a suicidal option we should not even contemplate. As we are in the initial phase the numbers will keep growing for a few months to come still, whether we are in lockdown or not. If the infection rate is what you use as justification and extension of lock downs, then it follows that as the numbers grow, not only from the spread of the virus, but also and likely moreso from the increase in the tests being done, the case to extend the lock down every time we near the end of it, will be stronger than the previous time. I ask you Mr President, acting on this basis and against this background, what will provide you with justification for ending the lockdown? The only possible answer is social and public upheaval on an unprecedented scale born out of poverty and hunger that will make the country ungovernable and laws ineffective anyway. Following your current strategy is clearly unsustainable and will lead to catastrophe.
- Surely you agree that we can never afford this. The country will be (and is) dumped into a downward spiral leading to anarchy that few of us can at this stage contemplate. Unemployment as a result of business closures will reach unprecedented levels against which our UIF fund will be helpless. No law enforcement will be able to contain the lawlessness, violence and anarchy which will follow. The country will be destroyed. It will lead to a self induced depression. We could possibly survive a lock down of three weeks, although with disastrous consequences, from which we would take years to recover, but five weeks, or more Mr President, we will not survive. By the time it becomes evident that the above is not a dramatizing of events to unfold, it will be too late to do anything about it. The country would have become a lawless society driven by hungry people who had to become criminals in order to feed themselves.
- Yes, your actions are in line with international practice, although much more draconian (with no extra effectiveness). And it seems like the right thing to do as numbers seem to grow relatively slowly. By acting in line with the most stringent measures of the international community involves little or no risk on your part in terms of acting responsibly. Fear has united the country against the common enemy and ruthless action seems to be the safe route to take.
- Problem is we cannot afford to take this “safe” route. By choosing this route we are guaranteeing a scenario of anarchy on an unprecedented scale as referred to above. The situation calls for strong leadership and a willingness to stick out government’s neck and act appropriately and responsibly to a situation which calls for action according to what is effective and what we can afford, not according to how other governments reacted. We must acknowledge that the vast majority of our people has no reserves and that we as a country do not have the luxury of finances and stimulation packages that the developed world has. Economists calculate our rescue package at 0,1% of GDP compared to the 7,5% of the developed world. Because we barely have more to offer, we cannot apply the same policies. And on top of this our lock down and thus economic consequences are much more harsh than most (or all?) other countries.
- I am not advocating Covid-19 is not a serious problem deserving out of the ordinary measures, but we need to ensure we have proper perspective and a proper understanding of what we are dealing with. As an example, according to the Italian Health Institute the average age of Italians who died withthe Covid-19 virus is 82. Almost half of them had at least three serious medical preconditions. We need to analyze figures carefully in order to make sensible decisions.
- Our poor people live shoulder to shoulder in townships, where lock down has almost no effect or benefit other than destroying the livelihood of millions. The rules of the lock down are draconian and very poor from an efficiency vs disruption of life and economic cost point of view. The broad rough brush is destroying everything in its way under the cover of fighting the enemy, showing no respect for even basic but important rights in life, many of which have an absolute zero effect on containing the virus. It smells of a militaristic power play and undermines goodwill that is so desperately needed in our country. The situation could be managed with almost the same result with a fraction of the cost.
- Every life is surely sacred and precious, but we need to accept death, otherwise we will make life unbearable. How much of life of the whole are we prepared to sacrifice in our bid to defer death at all costs, even for the imminent? Is the deferment of death for a relative few of the people specifically infected by Covid-19, the ultimate triumph, worthy of the sacrifice by millions of the most basic human right of having adequate nutrition and shelter, which will result in their death anyway, either directly from starvation or indirectly from TB, flue or whatever, because of a compromised immune system? To add perspective, according to Lancet Laboratories the death rate for under sixties due to Covid-19 is 0,32%. What are we doing?! How can we ever justify the catastrophe that will surely follow this lockdown. We are throttling the country to death.
- Lift the lock down with immediate effect.
- Emphasize that this should not be interpreted as a relaxation of our fight against the virus, but as an effort to save the country and its people from economic and social anarchy.
- Focus on guidance
- Maintain the effort via the media and other resources to promote precautionary measures like physical distancing, wearing masks etc and healthy living (going for walks, exercising etc). Focus on protecting the elderly and the ill.
- Temporary laws can be considered regarding the maximum amount of people in a group etc, but certainly allowing a family to be together outdoors. (If they are together indoors anyway, why the heck not allow them outdoors??)
- Do the maximum to help individuals and businesses in order to save jobs and the economy.
Generally laws should be specific, minimising disruption while maximising efficiency, the focus being on cost vs benefit, being the opposite of how it is now. The excuse/cover for this was the urgency of the situation. This excuse is not valid anymore. We had time to refine our shock reaction, instead we roughened up on it. Very disappointing.
Failure to lift the lockdown within the next week will leave us with nothing to save.
Simon van Deventer