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Ramaphosa gave the go-ahead for Christmas – with caveats


Janet Heard is Daily Maverick Managing Editor (Day Editor).

Let’s put up with some inconveniences and discomfort to help to flatten the curve so that those who need the vaccine most – the elderly, in particular, who do not have the luxury of time – may get their jabs so that they can live out their last years without fear of dying in isolation.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper

Cyril Ramaphosa: “8pm tonight I’m fucking up Christmas.”

A myriad memes flooded timelines in the build-up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s family meeting with the nation at 8pm on Monday.

In anticipation, there was a rush on bottle stores. Interprovincial travellers were on tenterhooks in case their end-of-year family plans were scuppered. I bet travellers were checking the small print of their holiday bookings and insurance policies.

In our household, we wondered if our Christmas family lunch plans may be altered. Already, we had planned to eat outside – no matter the exposure to the Cape southeaster, the sun’s harsh UV rays or the rain. The turkey was to be cooked on the Weber under the milkwood trees. Our numbers were limited to 13 and all Covid-19 protocols would be observed. Short of designing an elaborate hug glove, the only physical contact allowed would be the elbow bump. In terms of special requests, my 83-year-old, very robust, but Covid-19-fearfully sensible father had requested that he and his partner be seated at their own separate table, just in case. Having barely seen him since March, it was a coup that he had agreed to come in the first place.

To slay the second wave, Ramaphosa could have announced a hard lockdown, as we saw in March. That would mean pivoting to a clinical Christmas lunch and toasting survival of this torrid year via Google Hangout.

Ramaphosa’s family meeting coincided with Germany imposing a hard lockdown over the festive season. All non-essential shops, services and schools will be closed until 10 January and Christmas Day gatherings reduced to one household plus four guests (children under 14 are not included in this limit) with a “protection week” beforehand. The crackdown on joyful tidings was announced after Germany recorded 20,200 new infections – up 2,000 from the previous week.

Back home, there has also been a sharp surge. During his family meeting, Ramaphosa announced that in the past week new cases had increased from a daily average of around 3,800 to just more than 6,600 a day*.

“The daily average of Covid-19 deaths has increased by nearly 50% over the same period, from just over 100 deaths a day to just over 150 deaths,” he warned.

But Ramaphosa did not cancel Christmas, or New Year. Instead, he tightened and tweaked Level 1 regulations and warned of strict enforcement with the chance of a six-month jail term. He imposed bans on hotspot beach areas and public parks, which led to a rush of holiday cancellations.

Ramaphosa’s softly softly lockdown means that our Christmas lunch is on track, though we need to be prepared to adapt further.

I feel fortunate that our family has escaped the worst ravages of Covid-19 – so far. My 82-year-old mother tested Covid-19 positive around her birthday in June. Although asymptomatic, she was rushed to hospital twice with post-Covid-19 complications. It was touch and go, the reality hitting home that coronavirus is not to be messed with. When we gather together with her on 25 December, we shall toast her full recovery.

As we continue with our plans, I have been receiving alerts from friends, acquaintances and office colleagues about Covid-19 scares and the need for vigilance. The coronavirus is ever-present.

So, we need to take extra care. I will be taking the lead of my “little” half-sister Pasqua, 29, who WhatsApped me this week to say: “Just to let you know, James and I are laying low between now and Christmas to make sure that we’re not a risk to anyone and to ensure that Christmas can still happen!”

Pasqua is right. We have a responsibility to isolate as much as possible and reduce the risk to those around us, in particular, and to South Africa in general.

We got off lightly with a soft lockdown over the festive season. Let’s make sure we don’t pay the price with a harsher second wave.

Let’s put up with some inconveniences and discomfort to help to flatten the curve so that those who need the vaccine most – the elderly, in particular, who do not have the luxury of time – may get their jabs so that they can live out their last years without fear of dying in isolation. Let’s do our bit to ensure that, come the festive season in 2021, we can bearhug our parents and our gogos with abandon. DM168

*Update:  The number of new Covid-19 cases has since risen to 10,939 a day, and the government also announced that a new variant has been identified.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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