Covid: Too much too late

Did President Ramaphosa wait too long to close the borders?

Thomas Mollett – November 2020 (Afrikaans version)

On 31 December 2019, the Chinese informed the WHO of 41 people with “mysterious pneumonia”. Most of the cases could be linked to the Huanan Seafood Market. On 7 January 2020, the virus was identified as ‘nCov’. The first death in China was on January 11 and the first case in the US on 20 January. On 23 January, Wuhan was placed under quarantine, with Hubei province following a few days later. The WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency on 30 January, and on 31 January, President Donald Trump banned foreigners who have been in China in the prior two weeks from entering the United States.

In Italy, the first two cases were confirmed on 31 January. On the same day, all flights to and from China were stopped and a state of emergency for six months was declared. Among other, incoming travellers’ at airports’ temperatures were monitored by scanners. On 2 February, the virus’s genome was sequenced and uploaded to GenBank.

On 9 February, the death toll in China reached 811 – already worse than the SARS outbreak of 2002/3, during which only about 774 people died worldwide. On 11 February, the WHO christened the outbreak ‘Covid-19’. At the end of February, there were already 1 128 active cases and 29 deaths in Italy.

By 2 March, there were 80 151 cases and 2 943 deaths in China. By 3 March, cases begin to rise sharply in Spain. On 5 March, the first case was confirmed in South Africa. On this day, there were already 3 858 cases and 148 deaths in Italy. On 8 March 80 million people in Italy were placed under quarantine.

On 11 March, President Trump banned 23 European countries from entering the US, and on the same day, Covid-19 was classified by the WHO as a pandemic. On this day, there were already 12 462 cases and 827 deaths in Italy. In the six days since 5 March, the deaths here have increased more than fivefold.

When President Ramaphosa delivered his speech on 15 March 2020, in which he announced a state of disaster, which would include certain travel restrictions, there were already 61 positive cases in South Africa, and it was accepted that out of the 61 cases only one was due to local transfer – so, 60 cases could be linked to foreign income, especially to a group of ten people who have entered the country from Italy on 1 March.

On 19 March, there were 116 positive cases in South Africa of which only 14 were considered the result of local transmission; thus, 102 cases were of people entering the country from abroad with the virus.

If one looks at the timeline and figures then the question involuntarily arises: How could these 102 infected people have been admitted and released into the country while it has been clear for some time already that a pandemic is raging? Where was the Intelligence that should have picked up the red lights of this pandemic? As early as 5 March, all incomers to SA, especially from a country such as Italy, should, at the very least, have been quarantined immediately.

Let’s look at the timeline and trends. In the period from 25 February 25 to 3 March, in Italy, the cases rose from 322 to 2 502, and the deaths from 10 to 79.

On 1 March, two weeks before Ramaphosa imposed travel restrictions (on March 15), there were already 3 318 deaths in China and 34 in Italy. In those two weeks, in Italy, cases rose from 1 694 to 24 747 and deaths from 34 to 1 809.

These numbers and trends were not closed or secret information. Wuhan was already quarantined on 23 January and Italy on 8 March. These are drastic actions by big nations. By 9 February, it was already clear that this pandemic would be worse than the 2003/4 SARS outbreak, when deaths in China had already reached 811. In addition, the WHO already declared the outbreak as a global health emergency on 30 January – and as a pandemic on 11 March. Worldwide, by March 3 there were already 93 016 cases with 3 202 deaths. All the red lights were there. Still, Ramaphosa waited until March 15 to impose travel restrictions.

Before the ten infected people came in from Italy on 1 March, South Africa did not have a single (recorded) case in the country. By 4 March, when the cases and deaths worldwide were standing at 95 314 and 3 285 respectively, there was already every reason to close the country’s borders. Yet, incomers from Europe, where cases and deaths were already on a sharp rise, were allowed into the country, and two weeks later we had over 100 infections only from incomers from abroad. And from there on local infections would start to peel off.

It might be said that many other countries, including Italy and the USA, were also slow to act early. This may be true, but South Africa still had much more time to read the situation worldwide. And two wrongs do not make one right. And to repeat: On March 5, when the first case was confirmed in South Africa, there were already 3 858 cases and 148 deaths in Italy. All reason to stop incomers of at least European countries immediately, or to quarantine them straight upon arrival directly from the planes (of at least our two largest international airports). At the time, infections in our neighbouring countries were negligibly small.

If those ten infected incomers from Italy had not been allowed to enter the country freely, or if the borders had already been closed on 5 March, our situation from there on might have looked much different, and we might even have been spared the harsh, destructive and intransigent lockdown that followed due to the tardy actions of the government. The psychic blood trail, especially on our old people in nursing homes, who had to perish in isolation, is uncalculatable and irreversible. Instead, the government praises itself for its “swift action” while treating the country’s citizens like children and criminals. The police under the watch of Bheki Cele, can on any given day not even manage the gangs in the Cape Flats, but beware if you were found with a packet of cigarettes of which you could not produce a slip of. Some of the regulations imposed by the Covid Task Force simply defied any rationality, many of which were hard to believe as being thought-out by supposed educated adults.

One can only hope that one day a class action will be launched against the ANC government, by, among others, hair salons and golf courses, which had to stay closed (while suffering losses) while taxis could drive around fully loaded – to sue the government until there is not one cent left for them to steal.

Post Scriptum: Of course, there are many speculations and theories about the origin of the virus and whatever is behind it, and perhaps it did not originate from the Huanan Seafood Market. Who will ever really know what is behind this? However, the broader argument about the delayed border closure remains.

Read more about the fascinating Dewani case in the newly released book The Bloodied Bride. Oscar vs the Truth is compulsory reading before watching the ESPN documentary.

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