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+27 (0) 83 627-5584 / +27 (0) 21 785-2878 elise@b-h.co.za

The Far Reaching Cruelty of Covid-19

This article was first published in the Daily Maverick on 13 January 2022.

It is common cause that the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have been cruel.  Between millions of deaths; long-lasting illness for some; job losses; lockdowns; the limitations on the freedom of movement in general; and more – national battle fatigue is virtually palpable. 

Certainly the medical advances made to date in terms of vaccine development; treatment protocols; reduced hospitalisations; improved recovery times and the on-going assessment of how best to manage each variant and wave have helped to give one a sense of hope that in time, this too will pass.  At least, that has been their effect on me.

Yet social media hogwash continues to do its rounds and those who choose not to vaccinate stand on their soap boxes shouting out the need to have their ‘human rights’ respected; throwing selectively extracted pieces of the Constitution around as some kind of self-appointed experts in the field of constitutional interpretation.  All in apparent ignorance of the balancing factor to rights, which is that of responsibilities.  These include societal responsibilities.

A recent personal experience over the New Year of 2022 may help those who continue to balk at or are ambivalent about their need to ‘do the right thing’ see it from another perspective. 

As with most people, my husband and I have been exposed to Covid a number of times since March 2020, most recently during the festive season visit of my 85-year-old mother.  Given how events unfolded, it appears that she probably arrived from up country for a much looked-forward-to visit at the end of 2021 with the virus silently brewing the collection of symptoms that presented on her third day of holiday – later confirmed on PCR testing. 

Fortunately the vaccination did its work and she managed to avoid any serious illness, with the chills, sore throat, cough and mild gastrointestinal discomfort dissipating over time; while we thankfully managed to avoid contracting the bug when caring for her in our home. 

Whilst the reality of the situation we found ourselves negotiating cannot be even remotely compared with that of the devastation so many have suffered across the world these past two years; nor with the crushing pressure placed on healthcare professionals on the front line, it did highlight Covid cruelty in a variety of other ways.  More particularly the way in which it so easily, quietly and quickly has the ability to strip one of a number of human rights (albeit primarily temporarily), the most supreme of which must surely be considered that of human dignity.

If ever there was a need for additional fodder for an already well-established intolerance for any anti-vax conversation, as well as a fast receding ability to reasonably engage with others who choose to hover with an attitude of vaccine hesitancy while they ‘wait and see’ whether to vaccinate or not, this recent experience provided it in abundance.

I highlight three personal insights gained from our experience.

  1. The past two years have limited family contact with the elderly for obvious reasons.  At 85 years of age and living alone, that is tough.  Although one never knows quite when a visit might be ‘the last’ in any situation, it is particularly front of mind with one’s older family members. This recent visit, which was intended to be one of joyful reunion with children and grandchildren, evolved into one of being confined to a bedroom in isolation for over a week before some masked, distanced movement was allowed as we climbed towards day No mealtimes together; no long conversations over tea; no outings around our beautiful Cape Peninsula; constant reminders to ‘stay masked’; avoid hugs and so on. Irrespective of the fact that we have a comfortable home in which isolation was actually possible – in-as-much as it was – it felt entirely unacceptable to have to had to imprison my aging mother via ‘bedroom arrest’. The necessity of it is not up for debate, and no matter how much effort was made to make it as pleasant as possible, I experienced it as unnatural; bordering on feeling punishing and cruel.
  2. It goes without saying that my husband and I had to be extra-cautious and responsible regarding our own exposure to the virus, which, with sound medical advice from our wonderful general practitioner, we were.  At the right time, we trundled along to the necessary pathology laboratory, spent the money required for our tests and waited.  In spite of the negative results being the most positive one could hope for, the stress of the wait is not something to be scoffed at! The ‘what if’s’ and possible scenarios around caring for mother, as well as each other, created an even greater awareness of just how truly impossible it is for a great proportion of our population to isolate from one another when ill.  Particularly if one is the only caregiver in the home. The cruelty created by the inability to protect others in many households; particularly those who are elderly, disabled or have comorbidities, as well as not having space to recover oneself, did not go unnoticed.
  3. Given the demands of my professional life – and the not-so-funny experience of having been carelessly sent a random Department of Health ‘Covid positive’ result a few hours before my actual negative PCR test result[1] was received – the impact of having had the other outcome on moving work around in the coming weeks would not have been insignificant. Cleary being self-employed with a carefully designed relatively ‘slower start’ to the business year than usual (so as to spend time with family), would have enabled a shift that would have been manageable.  But what of those who are not as fortunate, and who are unable to make up the lost time and income?  Losses that would be unlikely to be regained, setting many back at the very start of the school and working year, post the cost of Christmas.  This could be financially crippling, and is also cruel.

Although there are numerous other aspects of the above-described experience I could share to further illustrate the far reaching repercussions of finding oneself infected with Covid, they are unnecessary. 

Cruelty, no matter what form it takes; whether overt or covert; whether brief or long-lasting, simply cannot ever be seen to align with the honouring of dignity.

The point is that:

  1. in refusing to take on the responsibility of seeking qualified, professional and medical guidance related to what doing the right thing is;
  2. in failing to each try to improve the situation in which we find ourselves globally;
  3. to turn one’s back on engaging in actions that provide the opportunity to assist the world in getting back on its feet – and;
  4. to shy away from doing one’s ‘bit’ in order to limit any further, unnecessary losses arising from this pandemic,

those who do so are essentially choosing to invest in, perpetuate and advance cruelty.

In spite of my cognisance of the complexities attached to the vaccine ‘debate’, it defies logic as to why anyone would, willingly wish to cause such harm to others.  Let alone risk stripping people in their own families and communities of the most fundamental of human rights, whilst doggedly purporting their right to hold on to their own.

The vaccine ‘issue’ is not about individual autonomy.  It is about social responsibility. 

ELISE

[1] Not my test. Nor sent from the pathology laboratory we attended. The source of this random, no name, no ID number, non-dated test result, appears to be a rather belated attempt by the Department of Health to advise of my mother’s positive result.  Somewhat limited in value over 48 hours after the actual result was received.

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