Medic shares woes of it not being illegal to not wear a mask in SA

Medics who have spent their last few weeks dealing with gravely ill patients suffering from Covid-19 have expressed their desire to make it a criminal offence for any person to be caught in public without a mask.

Medics wish that not wearing a mask could be deemed a crime as many South Africans continue to ignore government pleas to mask up. Image: 123RF/Nataliya Okhapkina

Dr Kerrin Begg‚ who is one of SA’s top public health experts‚ last week took to social media to call out those who are refusing to wear masks during a viral pandemic she and colleagues are witnessing first hand.

Begg said she was walking her dogs at a Cape Town park when she saw young people playing contact sports without masks “whilst parents stood by and watched”.

“My colleagues and I are battling with the effects of the pandemic in a very real and tangible manner on a daily basis‚” said Begg‚ adding that her colleagues were working in “what feels like a war zone”.

The day before her post‚ she had assisted her son’s schoolmate whose father had just died of Covid-19.

More than 50 countries have made failure to wear a mask a punishable offence but SA has not‚ electing only to make masks compulsory in public spaces.

Begg said that while youngsters playing sport might be “fine” if they get infected‚ “I pray for the safety of family members and teachers over 55‚ and anyone with comorbidities that may not fare as well”.

Alan Winde‚ premier of the Western Cape where hundreds of people have died of Covid-19‚ told TimesLIVE: “We have to understand that we cannot make everything punishable and legislated. We need citizens to play their part and we call on them to do so.”

The Western Cape provincial government was “saying to every single person that you should have not just one but many masks so you can wash it after each use. We must all have etiquette and follow protocol when it comes to the wearing of masks.”

Winde said he was encouraged by businesses and public spaces having “clear signage” about the wearing of masks.

Prof Hlonipha Mokoena‚ from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research‚ said “the choice to wear a mask or not is about our differing understandings of the altruism involved in the act”.

She said it was possible “some people are choosing to ignore what we know about the virus in favour of conspiracy theories or high-minded self-regard” while others may be shunning masks because “the real dangers of the disease have not yet been felt and so many South Africans are complacent”.

In the US‚ President Donald Trump recently accused a journalist of being “politically correct” for wearing a mask at a press conference‚ and social media has been flooded with video clips of non-masked Americans spitting on those who call them out for it.

But‚ says Mokoena‚ “I think in America‚ people are also much more suspicious of the state” than South Africans are.

She said choosing to ignore state entities like the Center for Disease Control made “people feel smart and that they are not ‘drinking the Kool Aid’.”

Africa on the other hand‚ had learnt lessons from previous pandemics. “Whether it was the HIV/Aids pandemic or Ebola‚ I think Africans‚ in general‚ are better psychologically prepared for the contingencies and behaviour changes that are required in order to slow the spread of a disease‚” said Mokoena.

By: Tanya Farber

Source: ARENA Holdings.

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