The coronavirus has become a major global pandemic since its first reported case in Wuhan China back in November 2019. Considering the rapid worldwide spread of the virus, it has become clear that the virus does not discriminate, thus placing nations across the world into the same boat. From ‘developed’ to ‘developing’ to ‘third world’ countries, all countries face the serious duty of responding and implementing measures to combat or at least minimize the negative economic and social impact of the virus in their countries.
From social distancing to national lockdowns to calling on a state of emergency, different countries around the world have imposed combative measures as they see fit. Naturally, these measures all come with a different set of complications and consequences for the country enforcing them. With this in mind, I want to compare and consider how the implementation of these measures has affected different nations and their responses to the pandemic. Namely, I will focus on the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on a developing nation like South Africa in contrast to that of a developed country like the USA.
It should be noted that a country’s economic and social standing before the outbreak of the pandemic plays a large role in how the virus effects the country and ways in which the country goes about implementing its combative measures towards the outbreak. The scope towards the pandemic from the perspective of a developing nation differs significantly from a perspective from developed nations. While the coronavirus pandemic poses as a major inconvenience for all nations worldwide, more technological advancement and economic stability places developed nations like the US at a better position and standing to deal with the crisis of the pandemic.
After American president Donald Trump announced on March 13 that the US would be declaring a national state of emergency, awareness towards the severity of the pandemic became realized. It didn’t take long for countries across the world to follow suit by closing their borders, with African countries like South Africa announcing the implementation of a 21-day national lockdown. It is not uncommon for the developing country of South Africa to look to America before taking action or proceeding with a particular idea or development. America is still seen as a world superpower even today, so it makes sense that countries would follow suit after the US. Still, the implementation of social distancing is a greater challenge for a country like South Africa as opposed to the developed nation of America.
The World Health Organization named one of the key reasons for the rapid spread of the coronavirus as being the fact that many countries had not taken the situation seriously enough. To begin with, South Africa seemed to have underestimated the severity and urgency of the calamity. Just as was the case with America, measures to combat the crisis were implemented at a time that was long overdue. This is particularly true for a country like South Africa, which has a high population of immunocompromised patients, TB, HIV, cancers, malaria, chronic illnesses, as well as regular smokers that plague both the elderly and youth. For this reason, the probable rapid spread of the virus should have been predicted and considered ahead of time. Given the fact that South Africa has such a high population of immunocompromised patients, the outbreak of this virus will be a more detrimental threat for the country. South Africa should have taken the initiative to impose more severe restrictive measures towards the crisis earlier, instead of looking to what a developed nation like America was doing for validation.
As the number of coronavirus cases more than tripled, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would be put under a national lockdown intended to last for 21 days, from March 26 to April 16. The president insisted that South Africa, which is the African continent’s most advanced economy, needed to escalate its response to the virus pandemic in order to avoid “human catastrophe.” Cyril Ramaphosa is doing the right thing by banning unnecessary travel, points of entry, mass gatherings and events, and nationals from high-risk countries; however, the question is, why did he take so long? The president’s decision to finally take action was long overdue. The number of immunocompromised patients in South Africa is alarming, and even though Covid-19 is essentially a ‘bad flu’ for most people, it can be fatal for a very large portion of the country’s population. The amount of contracted cases and the rising death toll continue to escalate rapidly in South Africa. Currently, South Africa is said to have the highest number of cases of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nevertheless, now that the coronavirus has reached South Africa, and its spreading in the country is one of the most rapid, South Africa now faces other challenges that demonstrate just how different South Africa’s circumstance and context are in relation to the USA. The first most concerning challenge for South Africa is the issue of remote learning. The notion of remote learning poses as a greater challenge for a country like South Africa than for a developed country like the USA. The claims made by many South African university student councils is that remote learning fails to take into account the harsh reality faced by South Africa’s majority group of underprivileged black students.
Accessibility to reliable and affordable internet connection has been an ongoing issue that the ruling ANC government in South Africa has failed on many occasions to solve. The government has struggled to build connective infrastructure to enable access to these means. In addition to this obstacle, many South African students are further hampered with unfortunate living conditions that are not conducive for remote and online learning, such as lack of necessary equipment and overcrowded family homes. While many of these issues faced by the society are historic, they are compounded by the pandemic of the coronavirus. Considering the imperativeness of continuing academic learning even in the midst of this pandemic crisis, which has been estimated to last long term, caution should be practiced when considering the application of remote learning in South African institutions. Effective infrastructures, learning techniques, and strategies must be implemented if remote learning is to take place so as to prevent unjustified advantage to students who are well-resourced. While it is said that the virus is more life-threatening if a patient has other complicating underlying issues, South Africa has extensive underlying inequality issues that are now being exposed. These will have serious long-term consequences in South Africa.
Staying at home is fairly easy to do – if you live in a house. We can’t ignore the fact that there are millions of South Africans living in townships and informal settlements. For South Africa, the idea of social distancing comes with many complications and obstacles. In fact, the country’s Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has on one occasion deemed the notion of social distancing as being an ideal that translates into a ‘middle class solution.’ From the perspective of the country’s informal human settlements, social distancing poses a difficult overburden because of the challenge of de-densification. Shacks in some of South Africa’s informal settlements are made of corrugated iron and can reach dangerously high temperatures during the day, making home isolation impossible. Furthermore, simply taking a step outside of the shack puts you literally less than a few feet next to your neighbors. Issues of density and over population are also factors. The South African government has got a massive challenge at hand here.
Finally, it would be shortsighted to focus only on the challenges faced by a developing country during these times. While America may be a developed nation, with a better equipped economy to face some of the obstacles caused by the pandemic, America still also faces difficulties and challenges as a result of the crisis. Social issues seem to be more at the heart of the matter for America than it is in South Africa. Since the time when news first made headlines about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, one thing that became evident was the unfortunate rise in hostility and discrimination within America. This was depicted firsthand by the US president Donald Trump, who brazenly referred to the virus as “the Chinese virus.” What is clear is that some people have unfortunately used the situation of the pandemic crisis as an opportunity or excuse to practice needless hostility by instrumentalizing the situation to stigmatize and discriminate against certain racial or social groups. American Asians particularly have been subjected to the most unwarranted racial discrimination in the US since the rise of the coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, in the face of fear, people tend to adopt ‘survival mechanisms’ to cope, and we see the manifestations of this in news reports about greedy stock buying, lack of compliance with government officials and laws, expressing prejudice and blaming certain groups for the outbreak, being hostile, and not being empathetic towards other human beings in the face of a pandemic.
In many cases, American society seems to be privileged with the resources to practice social distancing and quarantine more effectively; citizens just need to comply with and adhere to the legislations passed by the government during this time. With that being said, it is difficult to ignore the psychological and emotional toll that social distancing may inflict upon individuals. Now is a good time for America, as a developed and leading superpower, to keep its moral compass on. Showing compassion and kindly reaching out (via social media) to one another can increase a sense of connection during these isolating times. Instead of using the situation to extend hostility and practice discrimination, individuals should use the time to express empathy and unity. The virus does not discriminate; it has affected the whole world, and this should be a reminder that we’re all in this together.
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“Minister Lindiwe Sisulu On Emergency Water In Rural Areas, Informal Settlements And Public Areas In Response To The COVID-19 Coronavirus | South African Government”. Gov.Za, 2020, www.gov.za/speeches/minister-sisulu-instructs-department-provide-emergency-water-rural-areas-informal. Accessed 31 Mar 2020.
The Digital Rainmaker with Simone Zanetti. Coronavirus – South Africa LOCKDOWN: What They Didn’t Tell You. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho134GTPceY. Accessed 2 Apr 2020.
“Trump Declares National Emergency Over Coronavirus”. BBC News, 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51882381. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.
“What Students Are Saying About Living Through A Pandemic”. Nytimes.Com, 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-living-through-a-pandemic.html. Accessed 30 Mar 2020.
Mbali Hlubi is a senior foreign exchange student at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, United States. Her home country is South Africa, where she studies at Rhodes University. She is currently completing her postgraduate studies and is an English major with a minor in Philosophy. She finds interest in music, public speaking, literature and creative visual arts.