Peter Bruce Editor-at-large & columnist
Passengers arrives from Hong Kong at Cape Town International on January 29, 2019 after being screened by health officials folowing the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Passengers arrives from Hong Kong at Cape Town International on January 29, 2019 after being screened by health officials folowing the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

There’s sort of nothing left to say. The coronavirus is here. Every expert is online warning us not to panic but not to go outside at the same time. The media is falling over itself for new angles. 

And there are a lot of them. With the stock markets crashing and every listed company’s agony in some excruciating way more awful than the last, easily the best line I read yesterday was Tim Cohen writing that Covid-19 would probably bankrupt you before it kills you.

Anyway, I’ve been looking for some bright spots in all of the gloom. One was President Cyril Ramaphosa taking control on Sunday night. He did the right thing at the right time and he was followed on Monday by an ANC decision to cancel all party gatherings, including the national general council in June that has often seemed to pose such a threat to Ramaphosa. 

Combating something that isn’t his own party will do Ramaphosa no end of good and he’ll have moments in the coming months to be much tougher than he was on Sunday. There’ll be people in the streets. Even at Easter, will popular churches seriously not gather their millions of followers despite his edict forbidding gatherings of more than a hundred people? Even a hundred is too many, but he was very soft on the churches in his weekly letter yesterday.

“Next month will be Easter,” he said, “a sacred period for a number of faiths and a time in which mass services and gatherings will take place. The faith community should take decisions in this regard in the best interests of the health of their congregants and the country as a whole.” 

It means he doesn’t have a deal with the churches. These people believe the best interests of their congregants is to serve God by gathering and putting money into the collection plate. It’s fairytales versus science. The government will have to prevent the gatherings somehow.

Ramaphosa will also have to be on the lookout for Julius Malema, who you can bet your bottom dollar is searching for some faux sanctimonious soapbox to climb on and blame either whites or capital or something similar for the virus. Let’s see what happens. This could end (because it will end) with soldiers in the streets. 

Or it could all be not terrible. Help may be at hand. Not so much a cure, but a treatment for the really sick. I know nothing about medicine or science. But I do know what a story looks like from early on. In China, South Korea, the US and Australia scientists and researchers have begun seriously to kick around the idea that existing HIV drugs and a very old malaria drug may make it hard, if not impossible, for Covid-19 to inhabit a human body. 

Try to stay with me. This is exciting and always remember you read it here first. It’s why we have paywalls. They’re just worth it when stuff like this is behind them. I first saw this note on Sunday March 15, just before Ramaphosa spoke to the nation. If it is a fake it’s a damned good one. I’ve shown it to two doctors and they were both immediately interested, all nodding and stuff.

What follows is long but it is basically (perhaps suspiciously) easy to understand but absolutely worth it, especially considering what I’ll show you after it. Essentially, the answer to the virus is right in front of us. And in front of us as South Africans perhaps most especially.

That was from the US, obviously. Now, look what popped up on Monday March 16 in Australia. Queensland, to be precise.

Getting the words “cure for coronavirus” into the headline is just plain poor editing but as the story makes clear, again, both HIV and malaria treatments, particularly using chloroquine, seem to inhibit the virus. I’m sure there are a million side effects of both drug types to make using either of them long term pretty dangerous. But the American paper reckons seven days of chloroquine and you’re up and running again. The Australians are a bit more circumspect. 

But there is obviously something to this. Whether it turns out that former president Jacob Zuma’s decision to make HIV/Aids drugs widely available in SA, combined with an old colonial pharmaceutical relic, ends up saving mankind as we know it, or whether someone figures out something better and quicker, this little story has legs. Watch it go.

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