Antisocial distancing will kill you, South Africa

People attending a Pretoria media briefing on the coronavirus flouting social distancing appeals

By John Fraser

I try not to leave the house too often, but I needed some stuff, so headed to a local mall in Pretoria East, thinking it should not be too risky now people know it is imperative to keep their distance from one another.

More fool me.

I had been shocked and scared at a media briefing last week at the SA Government’s Communications HQ in Pretoria to see journalists, cameramen and officials failing to observe basic common-sense advice to stay well apart from one another.

The tables had been laid out to keep the journalists safely apart, and the microphones (which worked some of the time, but not all of the time) were sanitised after every question, but the room became over-full.  No observance of the government’s own rules on restricting the numbers at a gathering.   At one stage, officials were asked to leave the room, and most did.   Then they slowly trickled in again.

From now on, I will follow such briefings on TV.   

Back to today’s shopping expedition.  My first brief stop was at a Spar store, which looked pretty deserted.  Even so, I was asked to wait until one customer had left before I could go in.  No bread flour on the shelves, so I bought very little, and left, having been sanitised on entry and exit.  Bloody well done, Spar – you will save lives.

Not so the Dischem pharmacy.    We were sanitised when entering and leaving, but pharmacists – yes, pharmacists – were not respecting social distancing; other staff were not, either. People thought I was somehow strange when I asked them to stop blocking the aisles so I could pass them safely.     A cesspit of infection?   Not that bad, maybe,  but disturbing nonetheless.

I called the manager, who told me he was in a meeting to work out how to tackle this.  In the meantime, though, I am terrified that the chances of infection are unacceptably high.   I left.  Shocked and surprised.

You don’t visit a chemist shop to catch a deadly disease.

On to the Checkers supermarket.  Same problem.  Staff in huddles in the store and at the checkout.   Hostile stares when I asked people to step aside so I could keep a safe distance.  It struck me that there were too many people in the store and I hope they were keeping a check on overall numbers.

Yet again, the store manager was hailed.  Less responsive this time.  He looked tired and I seemed to be an intrusion.   I won’t suggest he shrugged off my concerns.  But there was no apparent sense of urgency.   His feeling seemed to be that people had been told how to behave and that this was going to be a constant challenge.

On the plus side, there was sanitation for those entering and leaving the place and people wanting social-grant assistance were kept in a separate queue outside the store (a bit close together for my liking).

It is, of course, a massive worry that people in poorer areas of our country are not properly observing the social distancing directions, often through no fault of their own, and because these are impractical in such over-crowded communities.  The huddling which seems to be prevalent in unpoliced queues is very dangerous.

I had expected better in the leafy middle-class suburbs, though, where it is possible and relatively easy to do more to help contain the spread of the virus.

When I see affluent shoppers of all races, and store workers who are in the front line, failing to protect themselves and those around them, I am driven to despair.

Wake up, South Africa.  We are all at risk and we must all take care to protect ourselves…and others!  

This is going to get far, far worse unless and until the message can be better and more forcefully conveyed.  And followed.  Everywhere.  By everyone.

Now, more than ever, it is very wise to just stay at home.

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