While Kim Whitaker, South Africa’s Covid-19 coronavirus patient number 42, was in quarantine, she thought up a plan to find accommodation for healthcare workers when the full might of the biggest medical crisis in decades hits the country.
Next week, the first 25 healthcare workers will move into Whitaker’s Once In Cape Town hotel – a safe place where they can live knowing that they are not putting their families at risk.
This is all thanks to the platform Ubuntu Beds, an initiative that aims to unite hospitality businesses that have been affected by Covid-19.
The emergency accommodation is free and Ubuntu Beds, which Whitaker thought up, is now trying to find funding to cover the running costs, including water, electricity and laundry.
Whitaker also owns the Once In Joburg hotel.
Three weeks ago, she returned from a trade fair in Germany and isolated herself on medical advice and was tested for Covid-19.
It came as a shock when she found out that she had contracted the disease two days later.
“My house turned into a hospital overnight.
“The isolation gave me an opportunity to think about the larger implications of the virus,” she said. Overseas, the tourism industry has completely collapsed because people have stopped travelling and borders have closed.
During a Zoom meeting with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation she asked an Italian colleague what he would have done differently if he could turn back the clock two weeks.
He said Italy was in a medical crisis which was dwarfing the economic crisis.
“We should have used empty hotels to safely accommodate medical workers near their jobs,” he said.
In Italy, these valuable workers were forced to travel home after a long day, amid restrictions on public transport. They also had to run the risk of exposing their own families to the disease. The end result was that they slept in their cars or somewhere in a corner.
This led to burnout and to the detriment of the whole community.
Whitaker phoned hospitals and offered them accommodation in each of her two hotels, with 50 rooms each, for their personnel.
“Hospital managers are facing many challenges,” she said.
It soon became clear that hospital managers could not see to the after-hours needs of their personnel, and that was where she could make a contribution.
“That’s what we do in the hospitality industry,” said Whitaker.
In the meantime, the board of the Once hotel group decided to make their rooms available to healthcare workers for free and to look for money for the running costs, either from donations or funding from role players.
With help of other Entrepreneurs’ Organisation entrepreneurs, such as nicework.co.za, which built the website, Whitaker started the Ubuntu Beds platform where others in the industry could also offer accommodation.
So far, 110 businesses have offered assistance.
“We hope to have guidelines from the department of health on how to sanitise and manage the facilities,” she said.
For now, it’s self-service for the guests, but she dreams of welcome packages for them and a sponsored warm meal, once a day.
It’s not about the income at all, said Whitaker.
“We’re all in this together. We’re doing it all in the spirit of ubuntu,” she said.
Healthcare workers and accommodation providers can get involved at ubuntubeds.org
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