Could SA by some miracle dodge worst of Covid-19 curse? – Alan Knott-Craig

For a long time, it was hard to look at any world view on South Africa as we were slowly being shifted over to the same basket as other failed African states. These are the words that cropped up time and time again: corruption, xenophobia, Eskom, fail, junk, stall – to name but a few. But right now, our data on Covid-19 infections and fatalities are comparing favourably with the countries that were worst hit by the virus. We might just be lucky that the prevalence of TB in our country that gave us all the BCG vaccine may lower the risk of deaths from the novel coronavirus. And apart from the fact that most of us are really scared that our families, friends and neighbours may get the virus, it was quite heavenly not having the bickering in Parliament and the constant efforts to drive us apart. There is less traffic and pollution; we can actually hear birds tweeting in our cities and the crime rate has dropped. Judging from the stream of memes, South Africans are finding inventive ways to amuse themselves and to get food, okay probably alcohol, to their neighbours and it forced us all to connect more with each other. Alan Knott-Craig writes that if the positive scenario pans out, “by some miracle, South Africa might be the place to be” in the coronavirus pandemic. – Linda van Tilburg

South Africa might just get lucky

By Alan Knott-Craig*

In February, our country was in bad shape.

Our stock market was over-heated.

We were heading for a recession.

We were heading for a downgrade.

And then Covid-19 happened.

Our stock market collapsed.

We’re now in a recession.

We’ve now been downgraded.

Before Covid-19, Cyril Ramaphosa was bogged down in ANC political in-fighting, and Eskom was load-shedding every week.

Cyril now has no political opposition, everyone is too busy scrambling to fight the pandemic.

Eskom has stopped load-shedding thanks to the national lockdown easing demand from businesses.

Before progressing, let’s acknowledge that it is possible that this is Armageddon.

Health, economic and political Armageddon. The end.

Millions could die. Millions could lose jobs. Political upheaval could ensue.

Ok, got that.

But it’s also possible that Covid-19 is the best thing to happen to SA since the 2010 Soccer World Cup. South Africa sailed through the Global Financial Crisis thanks to the state-sponsored infrastructure projects for the 2010 World Cup.

We were lucky.

By some bizarre irony, our country’s ongoing battle against TB may just be lucky too.

It may just turn out that most South Africans are safe because it’s mandatory to have a Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccination when they are born to prevent life-threatening TB later on.

“We found that countries without universal policies of BCG vaccination, such as Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States, have been more severely affected compared to countries with universal and long-standing BCG policies,” noted the researchers led by Gonzalo Otazu, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at NYIT.



Sounds pretty hopeful. And the early evidence confirms it.

Let’s compare Spain to Portugal.

Portugal forces BCG vaccinations at birth, Spain doesn’t.

As of 5 April 2020:

  • Portugal: 10,524 cases, 266 deceased. 0.1% infection rate. 2.5% death rate.
  • Spain: 126,128 cases, *11,947 deceased. 0.27% infection rate. 9.5% death rate.

Spaniards are almost 3x more likely to get Covid-19, and 10x more likely to die.

India, like Portugal, administers the BCG vaccine to millions of children soon after birth to combat TB (tuberculosis). And like Portugal, Indian has seen a much lower infection rate, especially when you consider the higher risk of infection due to cramped living conditions and poverty.

And yet the USA, where there are no mandatory BCG vaccinations, has the highest number of infections, in spite of the USA’s being is 4x smaller, 28x richer and 13x less populated than India’s.

Thanks to South Africa’s mandatory BCG vaccination policy, we may just be less affected than many countries in the world.

We may just be able to end the national lockdown, and re-start the economy.

Ending the lockdown will benefit SA in seven ways:

  1. Millions of jobs will be saved. Millions of families will be rescued from economic hardship.
  2. Universal BCG vaccination gives our country a comparative advantage over countries that don’t, i.e.: all developed countries, and all developing countries that don’t have the systems and/or economic means to enforce mandatory vaccinations.
  3. Cyril Ramaphosa can use the economic crisis as leverage to implement the much-needed structural economic reforms our country needs, without the ANC in-fighting that has previously hamstrung his efforts.
  4. People have opened their eyes to the power of online education. No need to have the world’s best math teacher living in Butterworth. No need to print and deliver millions of textbooks. No matter where you live, you can have a world-class education (assuming you have affordable broadband).
  5. Less flying and driving. Even the most hide-bound of executives have now been forced to telecommute. Turns out it ain’t so hard. Good for traffic. Good for the climate.
  6. It means Eskom’s grid can take a breather whilst essential maintenance is carried out and IPP’s prepare for selling directly to customers, reducing our reliance on Eskom, ultimately creating a stronger and more resilient power grid.
  7. It means the Moody and Fitch downgrades are pretty meaningless. Everyone is being downgraded.

Ending the national lockdown will be the best thing that our government can do to save our economy.

If the positive scenario pans out, South Africa will be the equivalent of a golfer hitting a duck hook into the water, ricocheting off a submerged rock, bouncing back to the green, and the ball coming to a rest three feet from the pin.

We may just be pretty damn lucky.

The whole world is in it together, but, by some miracle, SA might be the best place to be in it.

  • Alan Knott-Craig Jr is the chairman of Herotel.
  • The Spanish deaths from Covid-19 were incorrectly stated at 34,219 in an earlier version of the article.
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