COVID-19 has changed the landscape of our lives. Many countries implemented strict lockdown rules to curb the spread of the virus. Public response thereto, varied.
Unless you were born during the Spanish Flu (1918-1920), COVID-19 would be your first experience of the effects of a global pandemic. This virus has wreaked devastation across the world.
Globally, there have been over 22 million COVID-19 infections and over seven hundred thousand deaths as of 20 August 2020. There are few, if any countries, which remain unscathed from this virus.
In early March 2020, when the virus was making its way around the world, many countries implemented strict lockdown rules. The intention thereof was to slow the spread of the virus while the world waited for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Public sentiment around the fairness and effectiveness of this initial set of COVID-19 lockdown rules fluctuated with time. The longer the lockdown, the greater the emotion around the rules. Below are three of the first set of lockdown rules which riled the public.
COVID-19 Lockdown Rule 1: Alcohol Ban or Limited Access to Alcohol
The ban on the sale of alcohol or limited access to alcohol proved to be a significant point of contention. Some countries only allowed grocery stores and pharmacies to be continuously open. They declared everything else non-essential goods and services.
Lockdown forced bars and restaurants to close, thus limiting access to alcohol. The point of this closure was to ensure social distancing to slow down community spread of the virus.
In countries such as South Africa, they banned alcohol sales (and tobacco) during the highest lockdown level. This resulted in several challenges to the government’s authority. The South African Government’s reasoning for this lockdown rule was three-fold:
- To prevent hospitals’ virus response from being thwarted by alcohol-related injuries
- To ensure social distancing
- To remove alcohol as a trigger to domestic violence
As lockdown eased, South Africa allowed the purchase of alcohol on specific days and between particular times. When this resulted in increased alcohol-related trauma issues, the government re-implemented the ban. Once again, the ‘panic-buying’ of alcohol ensued.
In South Africa, this COVID-19 lockdown rule split public opinion: people affected by domestic violence applauded the initiative while others complained about their personal rights being infringed. As of 18 August 2020, the sale of alcohol in South Africa is legal once again. I suspect this has more to do with the impact of the loss of alcohol sales on the South African economy than with a reduced infection rate.
In other parts of the world, when lockdown rules eased and restaurants and bars re-opened, overcrowding at bars quickly ensued. This gave credence, in part, to the rationale for countries initially limiting access to alcohol.
COVID-19 Lockdown Rule 2: Wear a Mask in Public
Some governments declared the wearing of masks mandatory while out in public. They quickly adopted this lockdown rule in countries where the wearing of masks was already culturally present, e.g., China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
In other countries, such as the United Kingdom and America, the messaging around the use of masks has been inconsistent. The wearing of masks has become politically weaponized to the detriment of the public’s health. There is sufficient evidence globally that the use of masks has reduced the spread of COVID-19.
In South Africa, public mask-wearing is mandatory. We reserve entrance to places of business for people wearing masks. There was some initial dissent from people in gated communities who believed that using masks while walking within those communities was unnecessary. Heads of homeowners’ associations quelled this quickly. Public opinion in the country has primarily been in favor of this lockdown rule.
Make no mistake; masks are uncomfortable to use. I wore a mask every day for three months last year, so I could spend time with my brother who’d had a heart transplant. I didn’t wear one because I liked it or was making a statement. I wore it to protect him because of his compromised immune system. We don’t use a mask to protect ourselves. We use it to protect people like my brother.
The World Health Organisation has not helped to provide clear guidance on the use of masks in public. This resulted in countries each determining how best to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their own communities.
Some countries debate the effectiveness of face masks. Members of their public even harass mask-wearers. Ultimately, we all have to take personal responsibility for our health. Whatever choices we make should not jeopardize the health of others!
COVID-19 Lockdown Rule 3: No Visitation of Family
Lockdown rules prohibited family visitations in many countries. They implemented this rule to reduce community spread of the virus. The concern for the most vulnerable in our society, viz, the elderly, the immunocompromised, and people with comorbidities was at the heart of this rule.
For some, this rule was the hardest to accept. Watching people in frail-care centers and elder-care facilities long for family contact was heartbreaking. Most of these facilities were also under lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
People held Zoom and Skype sessions instead of family gatherings. In many countries, people have not had physical contact with their families who lived outside their homes since March 2020. If you have strong family bonds, then this would have been tough to bear.
In South Africa, they closely monitored this lockdown rule initially. Until they didn’t. If we are to believe social media posts, then family and other social visits resumed when close monitoring ended. People have circumvented this rule, which has contributed to community spread.
When they eased lockdown rules in some countries, the ‘no visitation of family and friends rule’ remained. Yet, the rules allowed gardeners and housekeepers into your homes! This led to public disharmony.
Countries mainly implemented the first set of COVID-19 lockdown rules to curb the spread of the virus. They split public opinion as to the effectiveness and necessity of these rules. We’re learning something new about this virus every single day. As we learn, we adapt the practices by which we live and engage.
As we enter another phase of COVID-19, which has kept the world hostage in 2020, governments will introduce new rules. The rules on school re-openings, travel, resumption of sporting events, and concerts will no doubt rile the public even further.