Academics and pandemics: A student’s perspective during the lockdown

Author: Ross Booth
Third year LLB student, University of KwaZulu-Natal

For a lot of people (including myself) the 1st of January 2020 felt like a day that couldn’t come sooner. 2019 had been an especially difficult study year with the leap from first to second year comparable to an Olympic long jump. However, what I didn’t anticipate is that 2020 would spiral into disaster, almost from the get go.

UKZN students began the year in the usual fashion – one or two introductory lectures followed by an extra two weeks of holiday as our colleagues vented their frustration at the University and NSFAS respectively. However, the SRC and relevant university officials managed to quash the unrest relatively early on and lectures slowly began to commence accordingly. In conversation with a classmate shortly thereafter, I recall uttering the phrase “the worst is over” regarding the likelihood that the strikes would continue. As is always the case, good old Murphy was eavesdropping around a corner, holding his satchel of bad luck – preparing the unthinkable. And like clockwork, a virus initially described as a strong case of the sniffles managed to globetrot its way from Wuhan to sunny Durban – taking a few pit stops on the way. With that, the university was once again closed and lectures ground to a halt.

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The impact of technology on mental health during COVID-19

Authors: Mustapha Dumbuya, Johnson Mayamba & Foromo Frédéric Loua

As the world continues to battle the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which by 14 May 2020 had recorded more than 4 million confirmed cases globally and  claiming more than 300,000 lives. One can be tempted to say that the fight might still be far from ending. Even as researchers work tooth and nail to find a vaccine, with Madagascar claiming to have found a herbal cure, some have described such efforts as more of a marathon than a sprint. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that people may have to learn how to live with Covid-19 because it ‘may never go away.’

When the cases were fast-rising, governments around the world adopted various measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. On 26 March 2020, South Africa went into a 21-day total nationwide lockdown amid increasing cases of the pandemic. Other measures announced included wearing face masks and other forms of movement restrictions. The lockdown was later extended but it has since been eased since the beginning of May 2020 to ameliorate economic meltdown not only in South Africa but globally.

Apart from having a disastrous impact on economies, these measures come with a plethora of other challenges. The current social distancing policies have had a major impact on people’s lives and wellbeing, especially for those living alone or away from family and loved ones. COVID-19 related social and physical distancing could lead to a feeling of increased loneliness and depression.

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The right to peaceful assembly and the COVID-19 pandemic: a threatened right; an ironic connection

Author: Foluso Adegalu
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The right to peaceful assembly enables individuals to express themselves collectively and to participate in shaping their societies and can be of particular importance to marginalised and disenfranchised members of society. The right to peaceful assembly entails a legitimate use of the public space. Although the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly is normally understood to pertain to the physical gathering of persons, comparable human rights protections also apply to acts of collective expression through digital means, for example online gatherings.

The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under both international and national laws. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which provides that:

every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.

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Lack of consultation led to persons with disabilities being neglected in the COVID-19 response

Author: Maluta Mulibana
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The South African Government, a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), neglected the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their COVID-19 disaster management response. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the president of South Africa announced a “lockdown” of the country with effect from the 27 March 2020.  According to the “lockdown” regulations, all persons must stay at home, unless they are essential services workers or they go out to access such essential services. Before then, several COVID-19 disaster management committees were established without the inclusion of the disability rights coordinating mechanisms.

While the UN CRPD provides for the consultation of persons with disabilities in its preamble and in article 33 on National Implementation and Monitoring, the government of South Africa neglected the inclusion of its national, provincial and local disability rights coordinating mechanisms, resulting in disability issues being neglected in the coronavirus disaster management response.

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A cry for help: The COVID-19 pandemic and digital inequalities

Author: Ayodeji Johnson
Communications and Advocacy Intern, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the current unprecedented times. The coronavirus has ravaged the world as it cuts across sex, age, race, class, and ethnicity in its vicious attack. Currently, almost 4 million cases with at least 270 000 deaths worldwide due to the pandemic.[1] The aforementioned numbers are frightening and has caused the world to slowly move away from public and shared interactions to physical and social distancing, isolating in their homes. While the need for this physical distancing is undeniable as a way to potentially save lives, this forced isolation has also meant that work and particularly study has been confined to homes.

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The scourge of homelessness and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic in the City of Johannesburg

Author: Bonolo Makgale
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

Introduction

After confirming the country’s first COVID-19 case on 5 March, South Africa braced itself for a 21-day lockdown, which officially began on 26 March and was initially intended to last until 16 April. The lockdown was subsequently extended to 30 April and has been further extended indefinitely with relaxation of some of the restrictions and some sectors of the economy being allowed to reopen, along with the extension of certain socio-economic relief mechanisms intended to cushion citizens from the hardships that the pandemic is sure to induce. In this light, one of the regulations included a moratorium on evictions, with the understanding that evictions would place vulnerable persons at risk of contracting and transmitting the virus. The provision stipulates: “All evictions and executions of attachment orders, both movable and immovable, including the removal of movable assets and sales in executions, is suspended with immediate effect for the duration of the lockdown.” These regulations were aimed at minimising possible losses of income, particularly among the working class and people in the informal sector.

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COVID-19: How more access to the internet can reduce existing barriers for women’s rights in Africa

Authors: Nelly Warega* and Tomiwa Ilori**
*Legal Advisor, Women’s Link Worldwide
**Doctoral researcher, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

On 17 April 2020, a Twitter user tweeted about a hospital in Lagos that demanded personal protective equipment (PPE) from a woman seeking to give birth at the facility. The incident, according to the user happened at the General Hospital, Ikorodu, under the Lagos State Government Health Service Commission. The PPEs have become important for health workers given the surge in transmission COVID-19 across the world. However, despite the rising demand and scarcity of PPEs, a conversation on the propriety of placing the burden of procurement of PPEs on expectant mothers is vital.

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Digital solutions for African elections in the time of COVID-19

Author: Marystella Auma Simiyu
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

According to the 2020 African election calendar, at least 23 countries had scheduled a presidential, legislative and/or local election. As of 20 April 2020, 10 of these countries including South Africa, Tunisia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, The Gambia, Cameroon, Libya, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana had been forced to postpone these elections and other electioneering activities due to the risk and uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended ordinary socio-economic and political activities.

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A call to action: Protecting women’s rights in Sub-Saharan Africa during COVID-19 pandemic

Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar

On 31 December 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. One week later, on 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of the pneumonia. Following this discovery, China witnessed unprecedented increase in morbidity and mortality rates of victims of the virus. Ultimately, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international attention under the International Health Regulations (2005), following recommendations from the members and advisers to International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia.  Although measures were taken to halt international travel the virus had already spread to other regions of the world including Africa.  According to the John Hopkins University Corona Virus Resource Center, the pandemic has had devastating effects in Europe, Asia and the Americas with mortality rate of more than 100,000 people, with a total of more than 1.7 million confirmed cases worldwide.

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COVID-19 and the access to information conundrum in Africa

Author: Hlengiwe Dube
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

As the world grapples with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the disease caused by the novel Corona-virus, Africa has not been spared. Although the rate of infection is still lower than the rest of the world, it is rising steadily. Governments across the world have initiated partial or nationwide crisis management measures including curfews, lockdowns, contact tracing, surveillance and testing  to curb the spread of the virus, which has been coined as measures to flatten the curve’. For these government-initiated emergency measures to be effective in curbing the spread of the virus, the public must comply with the government regulations. Access to information becomes very essential for the realisation of this objective and by extension other equally essential goals such as achieving the human right to health.

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