The pandemic-necessitated lockdown in Ireland has seen shops and businesses shut and people restricted to their homes where necessary and possible. And as restrictions are slowly eased, we may be, understandably, a little fed up with the working from home, the homeschooling and the frankly ridiculous amount of times the brown bin has to be emptied, but at least there are no soldiers on the streets. A little perspective can show us that we’ve not had the most difficult ride during the crisis. On Wednesday’s Ryan Tubridy Show, Irishman Seán Sheridan spoke from South Africa about how that country is dealing with the novel coronavirus.
“They introduced 75,000 armed troops onto the streets to reinforce the regulations, particularly in the townships, where there’s no such thing as social distancing or hand-washing because these people live in shacks and they’ve got no indoor plumbing and no sanitation.”
The South African lockdown, introduced in March, features a curfew from 8pm to 5am and strict exercise times between 6am and 9am every morning – if you go out after that time, you’ll need proof that you’re shopping or travelling to work or you’ll be arrested. “Draconian” is the word Seán used. State supports are absent in many areas of South African life, especially in the poorest areas, the shanty towns, where there are no unemployment benefits to draw down.
“A lot of people have absolutely no money. Many of them are day workers, or what’s called “waste pickers”: a couple of hundred thousand people who just go through rubbish every day to pluck out plastic bottles to re-sell and make a bit of money.”
Another complicating factor in South Africa’s response to Covid-19 is the fact that 7.5 million people there are HIV positive. Then there’s the issue of children’s health:
“You’ve got about 10 million children going to school here and the main meal of the day is at school and there’s no school, so, unfortunately, they’re starving, to be honest.”
It’s a bleak picture, no argument. And, for an Irish family inadvertently stuck in South Africa, it’s made that little bit more difficult by the fact that the government have banned the sale of alcohol.
“They produce some of the finest wines in the world and we can’t even have a glass of wine.”
Seán arrived in South Africa in January to advise on measures to tackle the social housing crisis there and got stranded when the lockdown was decreed. To hear more from South Africa, including why the government has banned the wearing of open-toed sandals, listen here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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