Who was Covid-19’s Patient Zero, defined as the first carrier of a communicable disease in an outbreak of related cases?
Since the disease at least officially originated in China, and which scenario China has not unequivocally admitted to but has not spiritedly refuted anyway, Patient Zero ought to be a Wuhan-based Chinese.
What Beijing has readily told the world is of Covid-19’s first fatality, a 61-year-old going by the name Zhen, in all probability a non de plume. Zhen is said to have contracted Covid-19 during one of his routine visits to the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market.
He died at Wuhan Puren Hospital on the night of January 10, 2020, at a time when 41 people had been diagnosed with the disease and at least seven were in critical condition according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
Zhen, however, was not Patient Zero. According to the January 24, 2020 edition of The Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal, Patient Zero had no connection whatsoever with the now infamous seafood market.
The Lancet report was informed by a team of researchers, seven of whom worked at Wuhan’s Jinyintan hospital, which was the first hospital to be designated for patients with Covid-19. The researchers analysed data from the 41 patients with confirmed infections and who had showed an onset of symptoms up to January 2.
They stressed that Patient Zero had never been to the seafood market and that “there was also no epidemiological link between the first patient and the later cases”.
Sadly (or was it decorously?), The Lancet provided no hint as to who the real Patient Zero was. It was not until three months later that her name was put out into the global public domain although she had long been named in maverick Beijing newspapers.
PATIENT ZERO WAS A LADY KNOW AS HUANG
Ever heard of the so-called Five Eyes? It is the world’s oldest intelligence partnership which came into being in 1946, its membership comprising of the major Anglophone countries, namely the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
In a Five Eyes memo passed to Australia’s The Daily Telegraph towards the end of April this year, Patient Zero was confirmed as Huang Yan Ling, a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and who was believed to have succumbed to the effects of Covid-19.
She is said to have contracted the disease “during a botched experiment” in the institute’s P4 laboratory. The memo was a summary of a more detailed 15-page dossier.
The name Huang Yan Ling first popped up in Beijing newspapers in January and shortly thereafter went viral in China’s blogosphere. Huang was a female graduate from Jiantong University and enrolled for a Master’s programme at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2012, which she completed in 2015.
At first, the institute denied she ever schooled or worked there and even went to the extent of removing all her particulars from the institutional website. They subsequently owned up to her association with them but insisted she was still alive and kicking. They have lately made a unabashed U-turn, saying she’s now unaccounted for.
Certainly, if Huang was still in good health to date, the government would have forced her to emerge and make a public statement live on television. The fact that they have not done so demonstrates quite clearly that she is indeed deceased.
CHINA’S DUCKING AND DIVING
The Five Eyes report pans China for obfuscating whistleblower reports, censoring Internet reports in a cover-up, and withholding important scientific information – including virus samples – to help other countries treat the disease in the early stages of what would eventually become the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Lancet endorses this view too: it informs us that the symptoms of Covid-19 were first made known to the Wuhan authorities on December 1, but they were reluctant to own up to the existence of the disease till December 31st, when they announced that 27 people were down with a pneumonia-like ailment.
On its part, the central government in Beijing suppressed information on Covid-19 for six weeks spanning December and January and only officially acknowledged it on January 20. Even then, the acknowledgement was far from wholehearted. The authorities continued to gag doctors and others for raising red flags and were unstinting in playing down the dangers to the public of the otherwise deadly disease.
For instance, when Professor Zhang Yongzhen’s Shanghai laboratory published Covid-19’s genomic sequence on January 11 to allow the scientists around the world to study the virus, the following day the laboratory was shut down for what was spun as “rectification” – whatever that meant.
And when on January 26 a group of 9 “experts” arrived in Wuhan to review the criteria for disseminating information about the virus to the global population, they were deputised by the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda Tsar, whose brief, clearly, was to sanitise the information and slant the narrative to Xi Jinping’s liking.
LI AND OTHERS SOUND THE ALARM
Arguably the earliest tipsters to go public about the existence of Covid-19 in China were Lu Xiaohong, Hie Linka, and Li Wenliang, all medical doctors.
Lu, the director of gastroenterology at Wuhan Municipal Hospital, on Christmas Day told the state-run China Youth Daily that a number of medical workers at two hospitals in Wuhan had presented with a mysterious pneumonia-like illness. Lu privately sent word to a school located near another major market about her concerns.
On December 30, Hie, an oncologist at Wuhan Union Hospital, and Li, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central University, set about alerting the public on WeChat, the ubiquitous social media platform of China, about the same come-from-nowhere disease.
Hie enjoined people to “wear masks and ventilate areas” after learning from her colleagues in the hospital’s respiratory unit that many patients, all of whom had recently been to the same seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, had been admitted there with pneumonia-like symptoms whose cause was as yet unknown.
But it was Li’s situation that ended in tragedy and therefore became the most topical across the globe. Targeting about 150 of his fellow students in a closed WeChat group, Li notified them about seven patients who had visited the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market and were quarantined in his hospital after showing SARS-like symptoms.
He would later tell The New York Times that, “we needed to be ready for it mentally; take protective measures” and CNN that, “I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful”.
R.I.P. DR LI
The screenshots of Li’s postings, which were under his real name, inevitably went viral and the outcome was exactly as had predicted. “I realised it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” he would later harp back.
However, it was not until two days after his WeChat comments that the Public Safety Bureau of Wuhan, a branch of the national police, pounced. Li was one of the people rounded up in the dead of night in a swoop on eight medical staff, who included Hie, for “spreading rumours online that disturbed the public order”. He was made to sign a statement acknowledging guilt of a misdemeanour which constituted illegal behaviour.
But the iron-willed, heart-of-oak Li simply wasn’t giving up. Although the police deleted all his WeChat posts and even closed his account, he resorted to uploading remonstrative videos on his blog straight after his release.
Li’s days nonetheless were numbered. Officially, he contracted Covid-19 from a woman suffering from glaucoma that he treated on January 10. He passed away on February 7. The probability that he was tactfully eliminated by the country’s intelligence apparatus cannot be entirely discounted given China’s penchant to harshly crack the whip on perceived dissidents. He was 34 years old and was survived by a son and a pregnant wife.
Li’s highly suspicious death sparked outrage throughout China, prompting the National Supervisory Commission, the country’s highest anti-corruption agency, to declare that they would conduct investigations into his demise. There has never been a word from them on the matter four months hence.
HE CASE OF AI FEN
In March this year, the Xi Jinping regime was at it again. One Ai Fen, the head of the emergency department at Wuhan Central hospital, simply went out of circulation, which is odd for a medical doctor working for a government-owned hospital.
Apparently, Ai’s sin was to criticise government for heavy-handed censorship of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country thereby delaying the adoption of measures to combat it and stem its spread in an interview with a popular magazine.
Ai was one of the eight doctors alluded to above who were the first to blow the trumpet on the emergence of the disease.
The Chinese authorities moved rather swiftly to muzzle the interview. The issue containing the interview, published on March 10, was quickly removed from newsstands. The interview was also deleted from the magazine’s website but was previously copied by Internet users who continued to circulate it.
Maybe Huang’s death was natural, but I’m willing to bet you my very last penny that Li’s and Ai’s were blatant eliminations by a near-Stalinist regime that scarcely tolerates going against the grain.
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.