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MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Now is the time to listen to our government about coronavirus

OPINION

We are a nation that values our civil liberties. After all, many of us have only enjoyed human rights for all for 26 years.

The pain unleashed by the apartheid government under the state of emergency is fresh, and we are yet to recover from the trauma of those times.

But all indications are that we could be headed for a special decree by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

We could be faced with a state of emergency with severe restrictions of our movements. It could include a 21-day stay-at-home countrywide lockdown where only absolutely essential people such as doctors, nurses, police and those needing medical care are allowed to leave their homes for limited periods.

If the emergency happens, we will only be allowed to go to clinics, pharmacies and grocery stores and hospitals.

It will be tough. But this is the time to listen to our government.

We are in unchartered waters. Figures of more than 5,000 deaths in Italy are frightening.

One of the reasons Italy is facing the crisis it is now is that people defied the government's regulations when they eventually came into play. They questioned the government's instruction for restricted movements.

We cannot afford to take chances; we have to comply to assist government with flattening the curve of the infections.

This can only happen if we reduce personal interactions. We just don’t know who is infected and who is not.

Laboratories are already not coping with the number of tests they have to perform, causing a delay.

A document doing the rounds is that we have more than 402 COVID-19 infected people and that because of the incubation period of the virus, as well as a delay in test results, infections could already be in the thousands.

Statisticians say that if the disease is left unchecked, more than a million cases can occur within weeks.

We have to assume the worst.

Our reality is that we are even more compromised than Italy. Our public health systems were already overburdened and not coping - without a global pandemic.

While this past weekend there were encouraging signs of people changing behaviour, large parts of our country were still defying the rules.

There were those who continued going to church, with no social distancing.

While it is understandable as church is part of our being as a nation, large gatherings are not only putting you at risk, but could also put us all in jeopardy.

At a funeral this past weekend, a friend told me when they arrived, they were not hugging and kissing but instead giving each other bluetooth kisses. But all that disappeared when the after-tears was in full swing. There is logic in government stopping alcohol trade after 6pm and trying to get us to go home.

While some bars and taverns stopped selling booze at 6pm, people in townships had bought more, and instead of going home, were gathering in the streets. In one incident told to me, people were sitting in a circle and still sharing the beer quartz. All these are part of our being as a nation.

But it is time to stop and listen to our government. We have to take personal steps to protect our nation from what could be catastrophic.

Whatever stricter rules Ramaphosa imposes on Monday night, let us comply.

Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle

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