• Keagan Stokoe

Coronavirus: Sun Tzu’s Perfect Army

The war against Coronavirus is like running a marathon, except with the intensity of the 100m sprint. It’s exceptionally difficult. Despite this, it is an unavoidable war and the sooner we start it the sooner will end it. Each moment counts.


We’re at War


Ai Fen, the Chinese doctor who made the first attempt to break the news of the Coronavirus, described in an interview moments of the outbreak that continue to haunt her memory.


These moments include an elderly man staring blankly at a doctor giving him the death certificate of his 32-year-old son. A father who was too sick to get out of the car outside of the hospital. By the time Dr Fen walked to the car, the man had died.


Once, when she arranged for the transfer of a man’s mother-in-law to in-patient care, the man took a moment to thank her. The mother-in-law died upon arrival. “I know it was only a few seconds but that ‘thank you’ weighs heavily on me. In the time it took to say this one sentence, could a life have been saved?”


The world is at war against the Coronavirus. I say this with confidence as we read of 368 Italian deaths on one day, of countries shutting down their borders and their economies, and of the world being crippled to its knees.


“The war has literally exploded and the battles are uninterrupted day and night. ”

- Dr Daniele Macchini, Northern Italy.


Here’s what this means: Coronavirus is a conniving, persistent enemy that turns colleagues, friends and family into potential threats. It may be our most difficult adversary yet.

Why is this different from any other war?


This war is being fought against the perfect army. An army which may be the most difficult adversary the world has ever faced, and here’s why:


  • Normal defences don’t work against the Coronavirus. You cannot bomb it or impose sanctions, you cannot simply shoot it down.

  • Coronavirus has no supply chain. It is impossible to interrupt its resources because it lives off the land.

  • It has an unlimited supply of reinforcements which continues to multiply day by day.

  • Coronavirus is fully decentralised, meaning that it can move swiftly and easily, often undetected.

  • Fighting the virus demands urgent action and endurance. It’s a race against the clock and a war of endurance, something which makes for an extremely tough fight.

Fighting Against The Perfect Army


The Art of War, written 2,500 years ago by Chinese general Sun Tzu, is revered today as the world’s most important commentary on war. In it, the author sets out an unparalleled military strategy for outwitting an opponent. The Coronavirus has taken this strategy, perfected it, and is now deploying it in full force against the world.

1. “Know when to fight and when not to fight: avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.”


South Africa is in a precarious position. A recent downgrade to junk status, gender-based violence issues, refugees being displaced unfairly, an immense wealth gap, SAA’s failures and Eskom implementing load-shedding has already weakened the nation.


The biggest concern at this time is the fragility of our healthcare system. The system has long been plagued by issues due to long waiting times, poor-quality healthcare delivery, old and poorly maintained infrastructure, and poor disease control and prevention practices.


The South African Medical Association confirms that most facilities have problems such as poor waste management, lack of cleanliness and poor maintenance of grounds and equipment.

Here’s what this means: Our country, and particularly our healthcare system, is fragile. Coronavirus has picked an opportune time to attack: while we are extremely weak.



2. “Know how to deceive the enemy: appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”


Under the disguise of severe flu, Coronavirus has made its way into the homes, offices and immune systems of people throughout the world. Disillusionment made this virus appear weak and easily beatable, while in reality, it’s a virus with the ability to kill millions and spread extremely rapidly.


Why it’s worse than the flu:


a) COVID-19, the illness caused by Coronavirus, proves deadly in around 3.5% of confirmed cases. This is significantly higher than seasonal flu, which typically kills 0.1% of patients.


b) Disease experts estimate that each COVID-19 sufferer infects 2–3 others. That’s a reproduction rate up to twice as high as seasonal flu, which typically infects 1.3 new people for each patient.


c) Humans have lived with influenza for more than 100 years. There is an influenza vaccine. There is no vaccine against COVID-19, no treatment shown to be consistently effective, and a vast lack of knowledge surrounding the virus and its long term effects on sufferers.


Even if Coronavirus proves to be less severe than initially expected, it’s extremely irresponsible to treat it in the same manner as the flu, when it possesses the potential to spread rapidly and kill millions.

Here’s what this means: Coronavirus has lead people to believe that it is not something to fear. The virus appeared weak and easily beatable. In reality, it is extremely dangerous and spreading rapidly, and we do not have a cure.



3. “There is no instance of a country having benefitted from prolonged warfare.”


Warfare is tolling on a nation. Resources in the form of personnel, supplies and money are limited. The longer a war goes on, the more likely it is for resources to become depleted and for a nation to crash and burn.


Although progress has been made in regard to a vaccine, it appears as if the implementation of a vaccine remains months away. This is an extremely long time during a war and a time in which people and countries will continue to weaken. While the virus continues to spread rapidly, it will push countries to their limits, inevitably breaking a few.

Here’s what this means: As this battle goes on, resources continue to deplete and nations continue to weaken. Only one side will emerge victorious, and at this point, that certainly appears to be the Coronavirus.


Why is this relevant to me?


The purpose of this article is to highlight the seriousness of the threat being presented by Coronavirus. South Africa faces a massive challenge in trying to overcome the virus, for the following reasons:


  1. Many South Africans are forced to live in informal settlements. These are typically crowded, with people living in close proximity, conditions which are prime for the spread of the virus.

  2. Testing is not accessible to a large proportion of the population due to the R1,400 price tag. The lack of testing and treatment, coupled with the fragility of the healthcare system mentioned above, makes Coronavirus extremely dangerous.


It appears inevitable that this war will claim many lives, although the exact number depends on our behaviour. Simply ask a health professional and they will tell you that when the final assessment is being made, the number of deaths will depend on the behaviour of each individual.


Basic protective measures against Coronavirus include hand washing, social distancing and good respiratory hygiene. These measures are easily implemented and appear to play a significant role in reducing the spread. It is vital that they are implemented immediately.

“If you act today, you will have averted four times as many infections in the next month: roughly 2,400 averted infections, versus just 600 if you wait one week.”

MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London.


Here's the point: By taking drastic and immediate action, which may feel like an overreaction, you are not simply protecting yourself. You are protecting the elderly, the ill, and those who are unable to protect themselves. Your actions now mean that doctors, nurses and paramedics stand a fighting chance of helping those in need. In times of crisis, each moment counts.


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