Future gazing

Let’s not be Pollyannas about this virus crisis. Coronavirus, and the effects it has forced upon us, are not going away any time soon. And even if, or when, a vaccine or a cure is discovered and implemented it will only be a matter of time before someone goes into a Chinese “wet meat market” and buys another eye of newt or ear of bat that is infected with the next generation of this, or another, virus starting the whole cycle again.

During World War 2, shopkeepers and civil servants who were reluctant or unable to provide the goods or services requested would say so, adding the words “for the duration”. Well, in a way, we’re now at war (with a virus) and we, too, are facing hardships, and strictures, “for the duration”.

Yes, hard it may be to believe, but mask-wearing, social distancing and sneezing into one’s elbow have become the new norm, and it’s only the really, really stupid of Middle America, or the lager louts of a no-longer so-great Britain who believe it is their God-given right not to wear a mask if they so choose, as the virus “is a hoax” and surely “won’t happen to them”. But for us on our plots in South Africa, let’s not waste effort worrying about the terminally stupid in other countries, for we have enough problems of our own to contend with.

So, after four months of lockdown, let’s do a stock-take. Firstly, how well has the government handled the pandemic? Many would say appallingly, but that’s not entirely true. OK, the first month of hard lockdown was supposed to give the government the time to put in place emergency resources to help “flatten the curve”. In reality, all it did was break the economy and give the government time to spend millions, much of it wastefully, on Cuban doctors and masks and other protective gear. But in truth, given the creaky, leaky bureaucracy that passes for our government, that’s about all that could have been expected in the first month. Field hospitals? Not so much. Flattening the curve? All it did was push out the time-span before the curve started to rise (which it’s now doing). And while things may look dire here, the truth is that our health services have actually done brilliantly by African standards, and very well even measured internationally. For while we groan with dismay at being the fifth most infected country on the planet (at the time of going to print), that’s on a measure which puts us alongside the very first of First World countries, such as the UK (with its fabulous National Health Service), Germany, France, Italy, and the USA. A fairer measure would be to compare us to our peers. Let’s look at Africa. Most of the continent doesn’t even publish Covid statistics (and do a little investigation into how well they’re doing in Zimbabwe). And the Brics countries? Brazil? And India? China?

The harsh reality is that, before this pandemic dies down many more of us will die. Over, probably, many months. And in those many months ahead it would be foolhardy to suspend or revoke many of the measures already taken to slow the spread of the virus. Which means that there are activities that were commonplace last year which won’t be this year or next. Such as travel, eating out, going to cinemas, concerts, clubs, raves or pubs. Big sporting events, too. And full classrooms. This, in turn, means that anybody employed in those sectors is probably going to be without a job, and anybody who owns a business in those sectors may need to reinvent or repurpose his or her operation or close up shop.

And it’s becoming clear that social distancing means more that standing 2m apart in a supermarket queue, or only partially loading a taxi. In time, a good internet connection is going to become an absolute necessity, because that is going to be your link to the outside world, not hugging, kissing, dancing and gossiping over coffee. Zoom dinner parties, virtual sex ~ ways of communicating and interacting that haven’t been invented yet will become commonplace.
And as time moves on it will also mean that whatever support you have received from government, your bank and your building society, in the form of UIF, a grant, or a payment holiday, will come to an end, and you will be left to fend for yourself.

But one thing is certain, and that’s that people will find ways to work around the most stupid regulations. Already, anybody who smokes has found a Pakistani shopkeeper who will furtively slip a pack or two at a price inflated sufficiently to allow him to pay whatever bribe is required to prevent arrest. And the pineapple farmers are smiling as people resort to home-brewing. It may take the government a while to wake up to the fact that it, in fact, is the only loser in this picture as it forgoes tax revenue.

The fact is, our lifestyles will change, in ways we can’t yet imagine. But we will survive. Because we have to. Welcome to the new normal.