Covid-19 vaccine rollout – why the government needs a lot of help from its friends

I am not yet 60, and so I won’t be getting a Covid-19 vaccine any time soon.

But it’s not clear that anyone over the age of 60 is getting a vaccine any time soon either. The South African government’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan has it that phase two begins on May 17, 2021 – but there is general skepticism that this will in fact happen.

A May 1, 2021 Moneyweb report notes that:

The country’s rollout is proceeding at a pace much slower than expected. To date just over 293 000 South Africans have had received their jab, which represents only a fraction of the 1.25 million healthcare workers who are first in line. This adds up to about 0.5% of the general population. The initial target of having 67% of the country’s citizens vaccinated by the end of 2021 is now unlikely to be achieved.

The same Moneyweb article notes the many and real issues South Africa and many other developing nations have faced in laying their hands on the precious vaccines. It then goes on to say:

Secondly, (the government) needs to clarify urgently what the requirements are for the involvement of private medical providers in the vaccine rollout. It also needs to expand the number of platforms (such as local clinics, GP practices, pharmacies, and private and state facilities) on which the vaccines are rolled out. If ever there was a need for public-private collaboration it is now – both in terms of funding vaccines and in providing platforms. This would enable large-scale vaccination to occur at the pace needed to turn the tide against Covid-19 in South Africa. (My emphasis)

I’d go further though. It’s going to take more than collaborating with private medical providers to get this show on the road. Many, many South Africans will simply not be able to get to private pharmacies, and their local clinics (if functioning) are likely to be overwhelmed.

Other ways of getting millions of people vaccinated in a short space of time are going to have to be found.

The expertise is there

Looked at from a project management perspective, there are a lot of moving parts: procurement, safe distribution of both the vaccine and all the associated medical supplies, a wide array of venues in sometimes inaccessible areas, pharmaceutical prep areas, trained staff to administer the vaccines – to name just the main things I can think of off the top of my head.

On current showing the government is simply not going to be able to get this done.

But I can think of several organisations that have the know-how (or parts of the know-how).

Venues: The Independent Electoral Commission runs successful elections in all the far-flung areas of the country every couple of years. Their database of venues large and small is surely the place to start when thinking about vaccination venues? And could their database of workers be roped in to help with the administration at each of the venues?

Distribution: There is not a tavern or spaza shop in the country that cannot be reached by the trucks of South African Breweries and Coca-Cola. Even if their vehicles are not able to offer adequate refrigeration, their intimate knowledge of getting products into every corner of the country would be invaluable.

Project management: South Africa organises several world-class mass events every year – the Argus Cycle Tour and the Comrades Marathon spring to mind. The people who organise these events must know a thing or two about juggling a lot of balls and getting things done to a schedule with deadlines. Could a think tank of these experts not be put to work with the Department of Health to figure out how to get this done?

I’d wager that if any corporates were approached by the government they would be more than willing to pitch in, in service of their long-term bottom lines.

Look… I’m aware that a mass vaccination project has complicated ethical dimensions; I know that things are rarely as simple as they look. I know that bringing corporates into a medical setting might be fraught with issues. And there are undoubtedly transformation and equity issues that would need to be addressed.

But the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s time to use all the expertise we have to get as many people vaccinated as we can, as fast as we can. That means partnerships at every level of this massive project.

My message to the government is simple: ask for help, people!

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Main photo: Spencer Davis on Unsplash

All the tools you need to be a copy editor

When a friend was retrenched and asked me what you need to set yourself up as a proofreader or editor, I mentally went though the tools I use and gave her a rundown. It occurred to me the list might be useful to others. So here it is:

1. A desk of your own. This might seem too obvious and not worth listing. But it’s important to make it conscious. You can do anything on the kitchen table, in a pinch. But the concentration levels required to edit anything means you need a quiet spot to call your own. I have a big table in a communal entertainment room, which works for me since it is empty most of the day. And when people come home, I can greet them with joy. (The other benefit of having your own desk is that you can tidy it up when procrastinating.) Continue reading

What are Google alerts – and why do you need them?

Google has been with us for decades now (yes, really – it was founded in 1998, according to Wikipedia) and it is now so much part of the fabric of our lives that it has become almost invisible.

As a company if is of course far from invisible – it is the one of the big five tech companies globally, and is in the news all the time for all sorts of reasons, both good and controversial. Continue reading

What Covid brought us – paella (or Renee’s rice dish)

It’s a year now since South Africa went into a total Covid-19 lockdown.

That initial set of restrictions in late March 2020 took away both my and my sister’s birthday celebrations (we both have birthdays in April). They took away being able to walk the dog. They took away my husband’s ability to earn his income (temporarily). They took away bustling out to the office for my hours at allAfrica.com.

For many people the restrictions and the virus took much more: lives and incomes went, along with our sense of certainty.

Many people turned to baking (I made bread). Or they found themselves decluttering (I’ll put my hand up for that one, along with working in the garden). Cooking featured too.

In our house, one of the things being locked inside brought us was a resurgence of paella.

Years ago, I bought – at ruinous expense – a proper paella pan. We made paella a lot, and then we had a child and complicated meal-making went out of the window. We made paella every now and then as Jack got older, but it was always a special occasion thing.

But lockdown meant long hours at home. I hauled the paella pan out, and we went in search of saffron. That took some doing, with shortages of all sorts of things on the supermarket shelves. We eventually found some and bought the shop’s entire supply: two small plastic boxes of red threads came home with us.

There were other things we needed but there could be no foraging for mussels, there could be no shopping for fancy rice, there could be no shopping for artisanal chorizo. We made do: frozen mussels, ordinary long grain rice, supermarket chorizo. As I have written before, our lives now are all about substance rather than style, good enough rather than perfection.

Over the last year, this is one of the Covid things that has stuck – I make a paella once a month, with those same less-than-gourmet ingredients. We’ve made a vegetarian version, we’ve made it without mussels for a friend of my son’s who regards shellfish with suspicion. We’ve made it on a Weber, and on an open fire, and on the stove top too.

Out of restrictions, a family tradition has been born. Thank you, pesky virus.

THE RECIPE

Disclaimer: I am under no illusions that this bears any resemblance to paella made in Spain (though my husband Bob, who lived in Spain for a year, many years ago, says it is fairly close). Call it Renee’s Rice Dish if you like.

The original version of this comes from Angela Day, the cookery column that used to be carried in the newspapers of Independent Media. The one I make is based loosely on the Spanish style paella in this set of recipes.

INGREDIENTS

Chicken pieces (bone in, thighs and drumsticks are good; as many pieces as you have people, times two – so six people, 12 pieces of chicken)
Olive oil
1-2 onions, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
As much (and as fancy) chorizo as you can muster, sliced
Pinch saffron
15 ml (ie some) boiling water
2- 4 teaspoons paprika (we do four, and if we can get smoked paprika, even better)
4 plum tomatoes (or 3 big tomatoes), chopped
375ml Arborio rice (but I have used Spekko long grain rice; Tastic Bonnet is good if you can lay your hands on it)
1 litre of chicken stock (sure, homemade if you have; shop stock is fine)
Mussels (whatever you can lay your hands – Cape Point mussels on the half shell work well)
1 cup frozen peas

METHOD

Spray and cook the paella pan (or the biggest, heaviest bottomed frying pan you have; a big cast iron pot might also work).

Put the pan on the biggest plate/gas ring you have. If using gas, put in a heat diffuser. Heat it a bit on high heat, then turn the heat down to the lowest you have and leave it there – this is a long, slow business.

1. Put the olive oil (probably three or four tablespoons) in the pan.

2. Cook the chicken for as long as you have patience – turn it often. You want it good and crisp. It only has 30 minutes in the stock later so you want it as cooked as you can get it at this stage. When you think it’s ready, take the chicken out of the pan and keep aside.

3. Fry the onions – you want them mushy and browned.

4. Add the garlic and fry it for a bit – a minute or two, stirring.

5. Add the chorizo – you want it to fry until it is starting to render its fat.

6. While keeping an eye on the chorizo, put the saffron in a bowl and add the boiling water.

7. Add the saffron + water, and the paprika to the pan. Stir-fry for a minute or so. Breathe deeply. At this point it will be smelling gorgeous.

8. Add the tomatoes, stir to mix – let them cook until they’ve gone soft and mushy.

9. Add the rice and stir it around so that it all gets coated with the oils in the pan.

10. Add the stock and stir – then bring it to a boil (more or less – but let it get good and hot). Now it will the red colour you see in the picture above.

11. Put the chicken back in. Push it into the rice and juice. NOW WALK AWAY. Set a timer for 10 minutes, rest your feet. Above all do not stir the food in the pan.

12. When the timer goes off, turn all the chicken pieces over. DO NOT STIR ANYTHING THE PAN. Set the timer for another 10 minutes and walk away.

13. When the timer goes off, investigate the rice with a fork, gently. Does it look like all the stock has been absorbed? If not, let it sit on the heat for another three or four minutes.

14. When all the stock is absorbed, dot the mussels wherever there are spare spaces. Sprinkle the cup of frozen peas on top of it all. Put on a lid – I use a wok lid which fits the paella pan. Tin foil would do the job. You are wanting the mussels and peas to steam now.

15. Set a timer again for 10 minutes and walk away. When it goes off, take off the lid and taste the peas – if they are cooked, you are good to go. If not, put the lid back on and leave for two or three minutes.

Carry the pan to the table, beaming with pride. Let people dish for themselves straight out of the pan. You can provide lemon wedges if you want – I always forget. No one seems to mind.

WHY NO STIRRING?
You want the rice to stick to the pan. According to Angela Day, a “characteristic of perfect paella rice is it produces a delicacy known as ‘socarra’ which is when the rice sticks to the pan at the bottom and becomes crispy”. Trust me, dear reader, the rice stuck to the pan is the best bit.

VEGETARIAN VERSION
We have made paella using exactly this same flavour-building method, but using bottled artichokes, olives and mushrooms. The mushrooms were cooked at the same time as I would have done the chicken and added back along with the artichokes and olives after the rice. Vegetable stock is often not as salty as chicken stock, so adding some salt when you stir in the rice is a good idea.

BRAAI NOTES
We found doing this on the Weber tricky – it was too hot, and stayed too hot, and we couldn’t move the pan up and down to adjust the heat. The open fire (mostly charcoal) works well – start with it hot, and move the pan closer to the coals as they cool. Bob says you need a good deep bed of coals.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Conscious language – words matter

Conscious language is a big talking point in editing circles.

As social justice movements rise and sweep across the world, writers and editors are being pushed to examine the language they use, and to re-examine their conscious and unconscious biases. The labels we use, the pronouns people would like to be known by – all these things are part of the debate which all editors should be following. (I recommend this newsletter as place to start to follow this debate.)
Continue reading

Charity begins with a dress

Every March I wear a dress every day.

I am answering a challenge from the Milk Matters organisation, which provides donor breastmilk to premature babies. I wear a dress every day, and people sponsor me, much as they might sponsor a runner for every kilometre they run for a good cause.

It’s not a huge hardship to wear a dress, but it is a break from the routine outfit we all wear most of the time (jeans, shirt, jacket or jersey). From Milk Matters’s point of view, it is something that raises awareness easily, because it provides a photographable and shareable daily event. Continue reading