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EDITORIAL | Put mistrust aside and keep your mask on

Ideas

EDITORIAL | Put mistrust aside and keep your mask on

Its mistakes aside, it’s unlikely the state wants to control citizens, so do the right thing for your fellow man

Editorial

Nothing has animated the debate over the necessity or otherwise of Covid-19 restrictions on our freedoms than the mask, a deceptively simple yet highly emotional topic on which we all have an opinion. Worn by many around the neck or covering only the mouth, the comforting presence of a mask around the face of another member of the public is becoming a legacy of the lockdown era. Where some see the mask as a long-overdue upgrade of public hygiene in public spaces, to others it has become the defining symbol of the new age in which rights and liberty have been sacrificed to contain an epidemic that has killed millions, but has left much of the thinking world scratching its head as to what exactly is going on. The intersection between health and democratic practice has never been more acute.

China, in its determination to have a Covid-free society, is encroaching on people’s rights with a level of technology and scrutiny that is truly frightening if one cherishes the golden nexus between liberty and the fulfilment of human potential. In some ways we in SA copied the Chinese “lockdown’’ approach, with disastrous consequences it is now widely acknowledged, and with little impact on the scale of death and suffering. If anything, the lockdown worsened the health and wellbeing outlook for millions.

Yet it is the human way to be seen to be doing something, even when the best course of action may be to do nothing at all. When it comes to preparing our health facilities for the successive Covid-19 waves or handling the contracts for PPE our government has been sorely wanting. In the area of meddling and making people’s lives difficult though, the government has surpassed itself, whether it was police minister Bheki Cele’s infamous ban on dog-walking or cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s pointless and costly cigarette ban. The constitutional objection to the lockdown strategy was along the lines that the government was usurping for itself the right to determine how people should look after themselves and was encouraging a draconian culture that de-emphasised personal responsibility...

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