Is the COVID-19 virus airborne?

Is the COVID-19 virus airborne?

Covid-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon. That is what the experts are saying. King Mswati III has only addressed the nation once about this pandemic. Otherwise, the monarch has chosen to isolate himself from his people. He made his first and only public appearance last month in May to address issues pertaining to the corona virus and warned us that this virus is airborne, contrary to expert opinion. He then told us to use umhlonyane to cleanse ourselves and our surrounding spaces of the disease, writes NIMROD MABUZA.

Is the COVID-19 virus airbone or not? That is the question that needs clarity after King Mswati III, in his first and only public appearance since the disease was declared a pandemic, said it was airborne when the World Health Organisation has said it is too heavy to linger in the air for too long to be declared airborne.

Addressing the media a month ago at Ludzudzini royal residence, the king was unambiguous in his declaration that the virus is airborne. He said liyandiza.

SiSwati Law and Custom, the king is umlomo longacali manga – the mouth that tells no lies – and this is a means as old as the kingship of the Kingdom of eSwatini to protect the institution of the monarchy from embarrassment or being caught in an awkward position.

In an infamous judgment in 2014, a full bench of the High Court reaffirmed the old SiSwati saying that: “Once the King has spoken it is the end of the matter. It is final. And as a Swazi Nation that is where our old adage of ‘Umlomo longacali manga’ [the Mouth that tells no lies] comes from.”

At the beginning of May, King Mswati told the media that the virus was airborne. He later corrected himself though during the course of his address to the nation. The last part of his speech was in line with the internationally accepted version of how the virus is spread.

King Mswati disappeared from the public eye after he had opened parliament in February when news started filtering that a new disease, the coronavirus, had been detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Even though the king’s comments may have caused confusion on how the virus spreads, the impact of his words may have been cushioned by the government’s aggressive response to raise awareness of the disease.

The Ministry of Health has since the outbreak in March done so much to create awareness amongst the nation that the king’s reference to COVID-19 being airborne does not seem to have had an impact.

Instead, emaSwati focused on what the king said about kuchela – fumigation in the traditional way meant to cast evil out spirits, using umhlonyane. They even went on social media to start the kuchela challenge.

At the beginning of his speech, King Mswati praised government for doing a good job in fighting the virus and also commended the nation for its positive response to the pandemic.

He also highlighted the importance of the media in the dissermination of information to the public in the wake of the pandemic. He lamented the fact that under the prevailing situation Sibaya – summoning the nation to the royal cattle byre – could not be called and said the media was important under such circumstances.

The king recalled how the corona virus has hit the whole world, highlighting the invisible nature of the pandemic and how it has left the world in crisis.

He reminded everyone that COVID-19 is serious and encouraged every person to take heed of the advice issued by government. He warned that if not taken seriously, the pandemic would escalate.

Noting the seriousness of COID-19, the king noted that scientists the world over were frantically looking for a vaccine. He said there has never been an outbreak of this kind and magnitude in living memory when considering the lives lost to COVID-19.

The corona virus, the king pointed out, drastically changed the world as we know it even in terms of travel, free visitations and social distancing at two metres apart as the World Health Organization prescribed.

It on that note that he spoke about how the corona virus spread.

As the king emphasized social distancing, he said not adhering to the two metres apart distance could be catastrophic, “ikakhulu ngoba futsi ligciwane lelihamba ngemoya. Batsi ke liyandiza…bo-science. Labalatiko bayalisho nekutsi ema-airconditioners nangabe nihleti nisetindlini akafuneki kakhulu kutsi asebente ngoba nakasebenta ema airconditioning kusho kutsi leligciwane liyakhona nekutsi linibambe. Kushintje lokunyenti…”

This is to mean, importantly the virus is airborne. He also warned against over usage of airconditioners because they too help the disease spread.

Government, the ministry of health in particular, has since the outbreak not been wavering on the spread of COVID 19. Deputy Prime Minister, Themba Masuku in a clip played on national radio played regularly on a daily basis has been saying that the virus spread through humans – leligciwane lihamba ngemuntfu.

The virus, according to the ministry of health and the World Health Organization, is spread between people during close contact, mostly through small droplets produced when sneezing, coughing and talking.

The use of face masks is meant to protect against its spread and infections.

The small droplets, the WHO says, can travel about two metres and drop to the ground or surfaces if no person is within distance and could stay there for a lengthy period.

Since the virus is new, scientists are not yet certain if it’s airborne. The king seemed to be one of those who are for the view that the virus is airborne. The world is frantically trying to get as vaccine for COVID 19.

At the time of going to print, here eSwatini 333 people had tested positive to COVID 19 and three had died. Over 220 had recovered. There is a fear that the proposed re-opening of schools next month will increase the infection rate among children of school going age.

It appears the royal slip of the tongue was noted with in government circles and the necessary editing was made on the video posted on YouTube.

The outbreak of the corona virus in March forced the cancellation of the annual celebrations such as King Mswati’s 52nd birthday, the annual Good Friday and Easter services and the harvesting by regiments of royal corn and sorghum fields.

The annual marula festival at Buhleni and Hlane escaped by a whisker. The virus had not yet been found in the kingdom and there were no more than two cases in South Africa at the time.

Newspaper reports here of a Chinese national who had been in isolation did nothing to cancel out that event.

During his address to the nation, the king was at pains calling on emaSwati to exercise caution and stick by the preventative measures prescribed by government and said these were important as the virus was showing no sign of subsiding.

He also spoke at length about the strain imposed by COVID 19 on the economy and individuals. At the outbreak of the virus, government declared a state of national disaster and imposed a partial lockdown.

The king said despite the ease of the partial lockdown, the preventive measures remain paramount to avoid a resurgence of the infection rate. The ease of the lockdown, he said, is meant to avoid a collapse of the economy. 

King Mswati, as usual, spoke highly of Taiwan for dealing effectively with the outbreak and commended that country for sparing a thought for eSwatini by sending medical personnel and equipment for the use of emaSwati.

Taiwan, with a population of over 24 million has had fewer cases of COVID 19 and did not impose any lockdown in its economy. It is reported that Taiwan’s handling of the outbreak received praise from the international community.

Vietnam, with a population of about 97 million, has also been successful in its fight against the virus. Hong Kong is another country less affected by the corona virus.

The king praised other countries and international and local organizations that contributed in the fight against COVID 19.

The king paid tribute to heroes and heroines who led the fight against COVID 19 and lost their lives in the line of duty.

At the end of his speech, the king returned to the initial point on the spread of the corona virus. He emphasized the importance of fumigation in the people’s everyday lives. On a lighter note, he pointed out that fumigation is common in Africa and eSwatini, using the siSwati word of kuchela.

The king said since the virus is spread by contact things like door handles and lifts should be sanitized. The king said tissue paper should be placed at entrances and lifts be used when opening or pressing buttons

The last part of the king’s speech on the spread of COVID 19 was in conflict with the first past. It was clear on the last version that the virus spread through human contact and the virus lies in surfaces.

  • Story produced by Inhlase Centre for Investigative Journalism

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