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Jet-setters, those who can afford skiing holidays in Italy, first brought Covid-19 to South Africa. More recently, business travellers returning from Europe and the US spread the disease.
These are people who enjoy world-class medical cover, whose livelihoods are typically insured.
For them, Covid-19 is a disruption to their everyday, privileged lives.
But in the process, they have infected working class people in the country’s formal and informal economy. It has forced the South African government to impose draconian restrictions, similar to those in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
But these apply nationwide and will remain in place for 21 days, until midnight on 16 April.
The authorities had little choice.
They realised the virus could decimate many people who are ill-equipped to face the scourge.
We are speaking here of folk who live in crowded conditions, who are poor and poorly nourished. Often Aids, tuberculosis and other chronic illnesses compromise their immune systems.
The spread of the virus threatens the social and economic progress made by the poorest of our citizens.
Conceivably it could set back the development clock by 10 years or more.
And there is a danger that this could be the reality across Africa and in many parts of Asia and South America.
If Covid-19 gets a foothold in any of the densely populated towns or cities on these continents, the impact will be immense.
The people who will bear the brunt are those who are already feeling the effects of global warming.
These are people dealing with more frequent droughts and floods.
They are plagued by locusts and other pests. Some are battling with an increasing burden of disease.
They come from communities with limited economic resources.
Social and family networks and other support systems are also often weaker than in Europe, China and America.
In responding to Covid-19, we need to think of how we can support the developing world.
We need to ask how we can help them build resilient communities and economies.
Regrettably, as the crisis has unfolded, nation states have been looking after themselves.
They have spared little thought for their global neighbours, failing to respond to the effect Covid-19 will have on the poor across the planet.
It could come back to haunt them.
The virus is likely to trigger economic migrations, social unrest and regional conflict.
In turn, this will further disrupt the global economy.
It will empower despots and narcissists.
All this threatens to reverse the recent gains we have achieved in building more resilient and cohesive societies.
The work we have done to head-off sustainability crises is at risk. – Roving Reporters
• Dr Andrew Venter is the director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s operations in South Africa. Venter joined CISL SA from WILDTRUST, where he was chief executive for 19 years. Over this period, he led the development of WILDTRUST into one of the region’s largest and most influential environmental organisations.
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