South Africa and the COVID-19 – by Francis Quamina Farrier

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– by Francis Quamina Farrier

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its spread all around the world, I have written articles which have focused on the way some countries have been dealing with the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Many African countries with populations in the millions, have less than 100 deaths. The reason being, that those countries took immediate action and put things in place to stop the spread of the disease at an early stage; they closed their borders and international airports and went into national lockdown very early. Testing was also immediate and quarantine put in place wherever and whenever it was necessary.             
Juxtaposed with the United States with a population of 330.151 million and 130,200 deaths, South Africa is still not doing too badly. Guyana’s neighbor Brazil, with a population of 208 million has already chalked up 45,000 deaths and rapidly counting.
South Africa has the highest number of cases and deaths of the coronavirus on the continent of Africa. While all African countries have relatively low cases compared with other highly populated and developed countries such as the USA, India, China and Brazil, South Africa is the epicenter of the pandemic on the African continent. With a population of 58 million, there are 34,500 cases and 1,700 deaths, which is by far the highest in Africa. The western Cape at the southern most area of the country, is the hardest hit and responsible for 60 percent of the cases and deaths in the country. A South African friend of mine, Chris Spies, who worked in Guyana for some years, is based in that area of South Africa. I have not heard from him since the break of the pandemic and am uncertain about his personal situation.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa is seen frequently wearing what are obviously custom-made face masks which are even embroidered with the South African flag and looks really classy.  “Studies show that wearing a cloth mask or similar piece of clothing that covers both your nose and mouth at all times when one is in public, is one of those measures that reduces the rate of transmitting the virus”, said the president in a television broadcast. “Millions of South Africans including children, are now wearing cloth masks whenever they leave home,” he said. Meanwhile, the country’s economy is taking a severe beating due to the lockdown. “Difficult days lie ahead in terms of the country’s Budget”, President Ramaphosa informed the people in one of his frequent radio and television broadcasts regards the coronavirus.
The lockdown in South Africa which commenced on March 26, is now partially lifted, sending some eight million workers back to work, worship, exercise and shopping. Mines and factories have also been permitted to operate at full capacity in an effort to revive the economy. This is being done, “Subject to strict health protocols. Through our behavour as individuals, we can reduce the likelihood that we will get infected or infect others.” according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who recently allowed restaurants, take-aways, and food establishments to re-open for home delivery service during certain hours. “More and more of us now know someone who is infected, whether at work, or school or in our church, mosque, temple or synagogue”, the president emphasized.
The western Cape which is at the extreme south of the country, is hardest hit by the disease and constitutes 60 percent of the cases and deaths in the country. “A study by the University of Oxford in Britain, found that the drug dexamethasone – which is also manufactured here in South Africa by one of our pharmaceutical companies, and of which there is an ample supply – reduced deaths among patients on ventilation”, according to President Ramaphosa.
Meanwhile, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) has implemented a technology-based solution for food assistance through vouchers and cash transfers to ensure that help reaches those who need it faster and more efficiently. Some 250,000 food parcels, have been delivered so far. Millions of rands have already been paid out in assistance to 37,000 companies and 600,000 workers. Small businesses have also received financial assistance from the government.
So how is the pandemic affecting the functioning of the Guyana High Commission in South Africa? “We, like all other Diplomatic Missions, follow the guidelines as set out by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), concerning lockdown procedures that enhances the safety and wellbeing of staff and the public during the COVID-19 Pandemic”, stated Guyana’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Dr. Kenrick Hunte. “Our office is open two times per week – Monday and Thursday – while for other days, we communicate virtually with the public and other Diplomatic Missions from home.” stated Dr. Hunte. “In order to maintain social distancing, all office visits by the public, when required, are by appointments only”, he stated.  Because Guyana’s international airports are not totally re-opened, the High Commission has temporarily suspended the issuing of visas. “We provide all other services using the internet and the courier services provided by DHL and FedEx”, Dr. Kenrick Hunte stated.
Giving the South African people reason to keep hope alive, President Cyril Ramaphosa communicates regularly on Radio and Television, giving the rallying cry, “We shall recover. We shall overcome. We shall prosper. May God bless South Africa and protect her people.” South Africa battled for decades against the evil system of apartheid – and won. This is a new war which they and the rest of the world are now fighting.

President Cyril Ramaphosa wearing one of his custom-made face masks.

Farrier at right, with South African Chris Spies, who lives in the Cape area, worked in Guyana for some years

New York-based Guyanese journalist Hugh Hamilton on the ferry to Robben Island last February, just before the COVID-19 struck.

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