Is it even possible to lock down townships and informal settlements, asks Prof

Professor Alex Broadbent questioned why the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the same globally while contexts, particularly in Africa, are different.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed soldiers at the Doornkop army base on Thursday night ahead of the national lockdwon. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Professor Alex Broadbent has published an article on the University of Johannesburg (UJ) website, exploring why a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 could have lethal consequences.

He questioned why the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the same globally while contexts, particularly in Africa, are different.

The UJ Professor of Philosophy and director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge spoke to Africa Melane on Weekend Breakfast.

He's worried about whether it's actually even possible, in fact, to lock down overcrowded townships and informal settlements.

"Lockdown works great in the suburbs... But in a crowded context it's very, very hard to see how that can even work... with ten people in a single accommodation and a toilet 100 metres away..." he said.

But what is the alternative under the circumstances?

According to Broadbent, it's partly to come up with "slightly more reasonable restrictions".

"There is, in my opinion, no reason to ban daily exercise, and no reason to ban the sale of cigarettes. There is no ban on drinking alcohol and yet you see soldiers smashing bottles in the streets... The ban is on the sale of alcohol.

"I understand it's complicated, but I think it would make life a bit easier if some of the restrictions actually had a direct public health benefit and some of them simply don't seem to."

He believes there should be more focus too, on mental health.

Broadbent compares the restrictions imposed in China with those in effect in Europe and applies the argument to Africa.

He said regional characteristics should be taken into account - like South Africa's geographical apartheid inheritance, for instance.

In the way that apartheid designed the country, which is abhorrent... we do have substantial gaps in many places between suburbs and townships. You can lock down a suburb... it's nice and quiet... but I don't think that's the same thing at all as locking down a large township where people are going to sit in their very hot accommodation with a large number of other people.

"We live in countries with a lot of gender-based violence; locking people up without their cigarettes in small rooms with each other is not a recipe to improve that situation.

"It's abhorrent in itself, but in this context could be quite helpful. You can separate regions in a way that China managed to and the rest of the world - Italy in particular - has not managed to. Regional quarantine did not work in Italy while it was effective in China.

"In a similar way we have in the whole of Africa very large rural expanses which are very sparsely populated, and then overcrowding where there is population. That's a totally different context to the context of the middle of Europe where you can really see things exploding, where you have large cities constantly intermingling with each other.

"We can't contain the disease says the professor, but we can slow its spread and the trick is to slow the geographical spread."

Read the full article on the UJ website

Listen to the full audio below

This article first appeared on the Radio702 website.