Maverick Citizen

Letter to the Editor

Following Covid-19 safety requirements is not a black or white issue

Following Covid-19 safety requirements is not a black or white issue
We cannot afford to politicise this pandemic. This is not about race. It is about people, says the writer. (Photo: Alet Pretorius / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

On 28 June 2020 we heard, once again, Professor Shabir Madhi talking about how South Africans are not adhering to the social rules being required of them. But let us not politicise or racialise this.

I write this in response to a recent Maverick Citizen reflection written by Mark Heywood on 21 June 2020.

I would like to start by giving you a short account of my particular setting. I am a neuropsychiatrist working at a tertiary psychiatric institution. I manage a general psychiatric ward as well as two isolation wards and a dedicated Covid-19 ward for our inpatients. My hospital is diverse, but if we want to be specific, predominantly black. Most patients are black, and most staff are black.

Despite the risks around Covid-19 being well-known to all staff, our clinicians (of all races) struggle to get staff to comply with the non-pharmacological Covid-19 interventions or ‘toolbox’, namely: wearing masks, washing hands, physically distancing.

I fight every day with staff to comply. As I left my Covid-19 ward today, I had to reprimand one of my own ward staff nurses for walking around in the hospital corridors without wearing a mask.

Hospital staff are educated on medical topics more than most. They have access to medical information more than most. Yet, they still do not listen. They are black, not white.

I agree with Mark Heywood that if I drive through the suburbs, I will see suburban white males or females chatting away to each other on street corners with no masks. My black colleagues report that if you drive through Soweto, it is the same scenario.

This is not about black or white.

On 28 June, Mark Heywood moderated a webinar with discussions by Professor Shabir Madhi and Professor Helen Rees. We heard, once again, Madhi discuss how South Africans are not adhering to the social rules required of them.

Let us not politicise this. Let us not racialise this. This is not about black or white. This is about human nature. This is about struggling to deal with what makes us uncomfortable. This is about denialism.

A virus is an unseen enemy. It is difficult for it to become personable to people. Sometimes it only “clicks” subconsciously when we lose a loved one – as what sadly happened during the HIV pandemic. This is no different; what makes it more difficult for people to understand the virus’s seriousness is that for the majority it is a relatively mild illness.

Wearing masks is uncomfortable. No doubt! Having to wash your hands until they are dry and bleeding – no doubt. Having to keep a distance from each other when we naturally crave closeness and human interaction – no doubt.

We have to find a way to protect and support each other. We cannot afford to politicise this pandemic. This is not about race. It is about people.

As a clinician, I need the public’s help to spread accurate news about what is happening on the ground. I need you all to keep yourselves safe so that I can be safe to help you. My hospital is struggling. We are all struggling at every hospital. Please help us: wear masks, wash your hands and sanitise. Keep physically distant. Keep your elderly family members safe. We can do it together. DM/MC

Dr Sandra Fernandes is a specialist neuropsychiatrist at Tara Hospital in Hurlingham, Johannesburg. She is also a Covid-19 psychiatric inpatient consultant and the chairperson of Covid-19 Surveillance Committee.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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