A post I put on social media on 30/11… a few days after the discovery of the Omicron variant and South Africa being placed back on the red list.
Just some thoughts for my UK based friends… helping to give some perspective. When I woke on Friday to the news that SA was on the red list I was pretty angry. I tweeted “ashamed of my home country”. Initially, my frustration was because my folks had just booked to come to Cape Town over Christmas… and like lots of people I know, our plans looked dashed and the disappointment was immense.
But as I’ve reflected, the frustration I feel by the knee-jerk reaction of the UK government has evolved into a less self-centred response and into anger at the injustice of what appears to be a politically expedient decision without consideration to the massive implications this has for my adopted country.
Yes, we’re all concerned by the Omicron variant, but I feel we should equally be concerned by the costs to livelihoods, lives and aspirations of a nation that is struggling to survive under the pandemic. Friday’s decision stripped South Africa of hundreds of millions of daily income… which will cost jobs and plunge more people into abject poverty. There is no safety net in South Africa for people who lose a job. The government cannot carry the can. The Covid support grant to vulnerable families is a mere £17 per month. Just imagine making that stretch to feed a family within a context of soaring inflation…
Then there is the psychological impact. We’ve been watching the UK fill stadiums, not wear masks and ‘get back to normal’ – while allowing infections to breeze through the population. In South Africa (and Africa at large – see below), infections are miniscule yet we keep wearing masks, social distance and restrict numbers at events/gatherings. No wonder it feels like punishment when South African scientists uncover the variant and the country is immediately sent to isolate in the naughty corner – and British people complain that they now have to wear masks again. In an equitable world, it should be Africa that is closing borders to Europeans, not the other way round! But Covid is again revealing the inequalities to a massive degree.
I’ve despaired that I don’t hear any compassion in any of the rhetoric. Even if the decisions are proved to be correct (which I do genuinely doubt as eminent epidemiologists state that travel bans won’t help), it would be refreshing to hear some compassionate, empathetic voices seeking to find a united response that doesn’t completely pull the rug from under one nation which is trying to do the right thing.
I have sat with this over the past few days and hope that it’s a helpful perspective. Covid-19 is a common enemy and it would be great if responses were not driven by nationalistic agendas that don’t consider broader costs within a globalised context. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the UK has responded in this way – and it is no wonder that my South African friends are concerned by the underlying prejudice it seems to betray.
Abject poverty is a reality in this country that I see on a daily basis. I don’t have all the answers, but my heart is breaking that decisions made in my home country are having such a negative impact on my adopted country.