By Deon Steyn
Covid-19 with its various variants result in, (and it seems for quite some time will continue to do so) the populations of all countries suffering mental as well as socio-economical hardships. This brief Research study only addresses some issues relating to the general South African population.
PSYCHOLOGICAL (MENTAL) IMPACT OF COVID-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has a significant psychological impact on the well-being of the most exposed groups, including children, students, health workers and the general population. Covid-19 and its associated preventative measures such as social distancing, the wearing of masks and the inability to meet in masses shows a dramatic increase in post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other symptoms of distress. It further seems that the social distancing and the security measures that have been put in place have affected the relationship among people and their perception towards others.
To put it bluntly, the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to a prolonged exposure to stress. With the increase in the rate of positive Covid-19 numbers in South Africa to date (the figure was just over 11000 on Tuesday 22 June 2021 but increased to a whopping number of 17493 just the next day, Wednesday 23 June 2021), stress and anxiety levels are increasing exponentially.
There are some elements related to the pandemic that further affects the population. Examples include separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, and uncertainty about the advancement of the disease as well as the feeling of helplessness. Although most expect that the psychological impact of Covid-19 mostly influence older groups of the population, it does in fact have a prolonged effect on children and young adults. Examples of such relate to a difficulty of concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness, and nervousness, as well as a sense of loneliness, uneasiness and worries.
Health-care workers are another segment of the population that are particularly affected by stress. They are at risk to develop the symptoms common in such catastrophic situations as those caused by Covid-19. These “symptoms” include post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), burnout syndrome, physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and dissociation. The fact that many of the Health care workers may also have to make the decision as to whom to treat, i.e. who is to be given the treatment to increase their ability to survive, and those not to treat, exuberates the symptoms as mentioned above. The feeling of guilt and self-blame more often than not increase the major stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and PTSD already experienced. It further results in insomnia, distress, and the constant fear of contagion as well as the progressive “closure” of the person (removing himself from those he loves and/or knows).
Another psychological effect of Covid-19 is the constant stigmatizing of both health workers who have to work with those diagnosed with Covid-19 on a daily basis as well as against those diagnosed with the disease. Research has shown that the stigmatization continues even after post-recovery. Health Workers and those who already had the disease experience rejection and avoidance by their colleagues, neighbors and even friends and family.
Any of the distresses above, whether on an individual or on those marginalized, may result in a marked increase in suicidal behaviors (suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and actual suicides). Fortunately this behavior is only identified in a very small percentage of the population at large.
SOCIO-ECONOMICAL IMPACT OF COVID-19
The depreciation of the local exchange rate due to Covid-19 will result in the country and thus its people having to pay much more for imported goods. This includes medicines and medical equipment needed to fight Covid-19. The already strained healthcare systems, the struggling education sectors and the high levels of inequality and poverty further also influence the socio-economic status of the country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic estimates further show a devastating effect on the livelihoods and development in the Country.
The pandemic further disrupts trade, logistics and tourism. Tourism, for example, contributes a large percentage of the county’s GDP. It further impacts the following sectors:
- Agriculture sector
- Minerals sector
- Transport sector
The Impact on the Social Sectors
The disease will not only have economic impacts, but will also have repercussions on social outcomes. The impact on health, education, poverty and inequality are examples. Vulnerable groups such as the poor, women, children and socially marginalized groups are at heightened exposure to suffer from the impact of Covid-19 due to the nature of their jobs (or lack thereof) as well as limited access to quality health, safe non-public transport, water and sanitation. Some of these social sectors impacted by Covid-19 will briefly be discussed.
The impact on Health Systems
Covid-19 has created an atmosphere of fear among those involved in the outbreak, and the likelihood of health staff being stigmatized and rejected by communities is high. This illogical reaction towards healthcare workers is unfounded as they work night and day to try to save the infected people of the nation.
To be honest, the mere fact that the health personnel are in the frontline of the pandemic, will claim many lives among healthcare workers themselves. This will weaken an already understaffed healthcare system and will impose an additional burden on existing healthcare workers. All of these factors will result in ever increasing exhaustion and the making of fatal mistakes.
The further lack of adequate funds to invest in healthcare infrastructure and the purchasing of equipment hampers the management of the outbreak. Covid-19 will impact healthcare systems indirectly as well. There can be a loss of trust in the healthcare system resulting in most people suffering from the disease avoiding health facilities and even resisting to seek treatment for their condition. This reluctance will have devastating consequences for our people. Examples of the loss of trust in the healthcare system are based on the possible corruption surrounding PPEs, the purchasing of ineffective vaccines, the forced destruction of two million of these vaccines and the very slow rolling out of the vaccination process.
Yet another indirect impact of Covid-19 is that it leads to a setback in the treatment and control of other diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. The decrease in healthcare workers further overwhelms medical facilities and disrupts services for routine healthcare, vaccinations and maternity care, to name but a few.
The Impact on Education
School closures, as part of immediate mitigation strategies for controlling the pandemic, could be very disruptive (especially for working parents in the context of finding child care) and should this strategy be prolonged.it could threaten the right to education. This strategy should thus be balanced against the significant social and economic consequences of the intervention, taking into consideration the impact of any potential closures on children in poverty and those who are vulnerable and depend on schools for food and security.
Rising Unemployment and Poverty
South Africa has reported the highest unemployment rate ever. This is to a large extent due to the effects of Covid-19 on the Country. South Africa always had a high unemployment rate but the current unemployment rate is unheard of. It seems if the unemployment rate has in particular been increased by the large number of women and youth without employment.
It is further found that even entrepreneurship opportunities has declined drastically. As people simply don’t have the money to buy products made/sold by entrepreneurs, many had to close shop. It was also found that the unemployment rate increased so much due to both the public and private sector having to retrench or lay off workers, thus directly and indirectly influencing the livelihood of entrepreneurs. Due to stringent Covid-19 restrictions many businesses, especially those in the tourism industry, clubs, liquor shops, restaurants, gyms, etc. had to close door. Much higher import costs have further contributed to either retrenchments of staff or complete closure.
Widening Inequality gaps and Fragile Social Cohesion
The Covid-19 shock deepens income and non-income inequalities in South Africa. As such the result of Covid-19 will disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable the most as they are often deprived of essential basic services such as health, water and sanitation.
Due to the continued rising costs in, amongst others fuel, food and other household necessities, and the fact that neither the public nor private sector seem to plan to give increases to their staff, it is interesting to note that the so called middle class almost no longer exists. Should the effect of Covid-19 continue to widen the gap between rich and poor, South Africa may soon find itself with only those two income categories.
Research Article compiled by DEON STEYN