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Coronavirus is bringing out the 'duh!' in all of us

Here's hoping some of the preventative measures we're taking stick, and that we don't revert to our old unhygienic and irrational ways once the crisis is over

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By and ndumiso ngcobo
Image: Aardwolf

In the September 15 2013 edition of this paper, I wrote a piece in which I confessed to being a hectic germophobe. In the aftermath of the publication of that column, I was the butt of jokes in the circle of uncouth riffraff I consort with.

The mirth would be magnified each time I fished out my container of Dettol hand-sanitiser. I'd get disapproving looks when I insisted on pouring my beer into a glass tumbler while everyone else was passing the ngudu (the 750ml township "dumpie") around, taking swigs.

But this is not the "I've been telling you Neanderthals" column. I'll save that for when we're hopefully out of the woods. This is the "Duh, we're supposed to be doing that anyway" column.

Let's take a momentary break from hyperventilating in snaking queues at Makro with toilet paper-laden trollies. Let's also refrain from engaging in SA's favourite pastime, bemoaning the government's lethargic response to the coronavirus. What else did we expect from ministers who address the media with dogs humping at their feet?

Let's focus on the things we can control:

Avoid grabbing each other by the paw - I saw a clip of Prince Charles arriving at the London Palladium for the Prince's Trust Awards the other day, presumably taking a break from his daily preoccupation of waiting for the old hag to croak. Twice, he stretched his hand out to shake folks' hands and, on both occasions, his handshakes went unrequited before he remembered that we're in handshaking Lent. Ironically, he offered the "namaste" greeting instead, each time. Gandhi would have been amused at the delicious irony.

Washing our hands - In my 2013 column I shared a startling stat: over 95% of us do not know how to wash our hands effectively. You'd think that we've learnt since then, right? Nope. The other day I watched a young man wet his hands at the Rosebank Mall ablution facilities, squeeze a healthy load of slimy detergent onto his hands and rinse it off before turning to me with a wide grin and announcing, "Corona is here, hey?" The tragedy is that he has a phone, data and access to my friend YouTube in his pocket, with a few hundred hand-washing tutorials.

Most of them drive to work because a twerp in Woolies chinos, who has been climbing the corporate ladder for 20 years, needs bodies to lord it over to assuage his self-esteem issues

Working from home - I have been bleating about this for the quarter of a century I have been working. A staggering percentage of the folks burning carbon fuels daily with their automobiles while stuck at the Gilloolys or Spaghetti Junction interchanges for half an hour don't really need to be going to the office.

Most of them drive to work because a twerp in Woolies chinos, who has been climbing the corporate ladder for 20 years, needs bodies to lord it over to assuage his self-esteem issues. After all, how do you feel like a boss if there's no-one there physically to belittle?

• Avoiding meetings - I can confidently declare that 90% of meetings are pointless. Because I hate them so much, I pay strict attention to every word said during meetings. There is hardly anything ever said that couldn't be adequately covered in an e-mail.

A friend of mine tells me that in his company, the last five meetings he has attended in the past two days have been about how to mitigate the risks posed by this virus. Some of the measures discussed were keeping meetings to a minimum. This was said inside a 10m by 6m boardroom without windows, with 23 people around the table. Some of the folks were coughing, naturally.

It is my not-so-secret hope that some of the preventive measures we are taking to deal with this crisis become internalised in society and that we don't revert to our previous ways.

I admittedly speak from a mysophobic place when I hope that for the rest of my life it becomes socially acceptable for one to refuse handshakes.

I hope the practice of packing 500 people in a 300-seat hall to yell and sing around one coffin becomes a thing of the past. I hope that working from home becomes the new standard. I have been writing this column for 10-and-a-half years but I have only ever been to the Sunday Times building twice.

One of the most extreme germophobes in history was one Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American electrical engineer and inventor. He was notoriously obsessive about hygiene to the tune of 18 napkins required to wipe his cutlery before eating, 17 towels a day to wipe
himself down and wearing gloves all the time. We obviously can't emulate him practically, but should probably internalise a little Nikola inside all of us.

I'll tell you something, though. I look forward to watching that first scrum when Super Rugby resumes. That will be something.


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