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  • Writer's picturegraeme

Lockdown Reflections Day 19

What do you do when nobody knows what to do? One thing you can do is call in the very best experts you know and listen to what they have to say. They might not have ever experienced this before, either, but they’ll have the best chance of understanding it and helping you make informed choices.

Yesterday, South Africans watched a masterful briefing by Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and world expert on infectious diseases. His presentation was made available at:

The video is here:

He showed everything we currently know, and shared projections for future scenarios, and outlined what the government should be looking for in new cases before changing its current approach to lockdown. He dispelled some myths (for example, about the BCG vaccine giving us immunity) and warned about the dangers of proposals to end lockdown too early. He indicated that this week is critical for South Africa to know whether we have actually properly contained it. Even without adequate testing (that is being ramped up now), right now we know that the hospitals are nearly empty, which is the best news we could have hoped for.

He was clear, direct, calm and evidence-driven.

I then watched Donald Trump a few hours later. He spent more than 15 minutes telling everyone why he has done such a great job so far, even playing a video clip compilation of people saying how well he’s been doing. Earlier in the day he had retweeted a comment that included #firefauci, further undermining his own medical expert. He announced a “Council to Re-open America” that includes no medical experts and two of his own family members. The internet did not disappoint with a variety of quick responses, my favourite being the Jaws references - see images.

I’ve tried to steer clear of political commentary in my daily lockdown reflections, but I just couldn’t this morning. The contrast between the South African and US responses needs comment. And it gets even more complicated for the US as West and East Coast compacts between States have emerged that are just ignoring the Federal government completely.

Nobody alive has ever dealt with a global pandemic like we’re facing right now. Nobody can claim to know with certainty what to do next. What I do know is that I am glad I live in a country that has moved quickly to get the best experts into a room, and listen to them; has responded decisively to their recommendations; is adjusting quickly to new developments and self-correcting regularly; is aligning all the role players that matter; and, is being led by data and evidence, with clear next steps that are being made public and transparent.

The SA government’s response is by no means perfect, and there continue to be disturbing reports about the over reach of security forces, but their desire to base their decision making on the best data, evidence and expert advice available can’t be faulted. And now that they’ve put 28,000 community healthcare workers on the streets (the only country in the world to do this, in addition to ramping up formal testing) we should have even better data by the end of this week, as Prof Karim indicated in his presentation.

Right now I am glad to be living in South Africa and not in one of the countries experiencing an exponential explosion of Covid-19 cases.

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