What we have learnt: 19 lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic

By Mark Tomlinson | Repost from Daily Maverick

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a tough teacher, and we are still learning. We have learnt many lessons, among them, we forgot to feed our children. Oh, and we forgot to feed our children.


South Africa is now in Level 1 lockdown. Other countries are also loosening restrictions, while some are moving in the opposite direction – imposing stricter lockdowns following some respite during the northern hemisphere summer. As we emerge from our own catastrophic six months, I offer 19 lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic:

We forgot to feed our children. Let me say that again – we forgot to feed our children. When we went into a hard lockdown in March and schools were closed, school feeding programmes also came to a halt. What this meant for thousands of children across South Africa was that they lost their most nutritious meal of the day. Not only did we fail to make a plan, but it took court action to force the government to find ways to extend the feeding scheme.


When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the country on 23 March 2020 and announced the lockdown, support from South Africans was near total. He was empathic, the messaging clear: his manner communicated that we were all in this together. Unfortunately, this did not last long with the suspension of Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams for breaking disaster regulations barely two weeks into lockdown, while Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma continued to clumsily and repeatedly defend the inane and pointless tobacco ban. The horrific death of Collins Khoza at the hands of SANDF soldiers and the arrests of 250,000 people in the months that followed only hastened the rapid shift from cooperation to scepticism and, finally, to anger.


The pandemic has ravaged our poor communities in terms of infection, death, unemployment, poverty, hunger and violence. Without a Marshall Plan of sorts, the future is bleak for our country.

South Africa had no flu season – hand washing and mask wearing works.


We have a problem with data. It is a near certainty that the official figure of 17,248 Covid-19 deaths (as of 8 October 2020) is the tip of the iceberg. Our excess mortality rate (33,000 as of the beginning of August) suggests that closer to 50,000 people have died from Covid-19.


Going back to Level 5 lockdown in South Africa is not an option.  The economic, social, personal and mental health costs are simply too high to bear. The country’s economic output shrank by more than 50% in the second quarter of 2020. As a society, we will simply not survive another strict lockdown.

We have learnt that lockdowns in different parts of the world have different costs. Rich countries such as the UK, US and Germany can afford to pay the salaries and supplement the incomes of millions of their citizens. South Africa and other developing countries cannot afford such assistance. In thinking about our future, we need responses tailored to our context, our reality: responses that are fit for our purpose. We cannot blindly follow a one-size-fits-all approach and imagine that what worked in Tuscany or Stockholm will work here.


Read the full article here.

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