President Cyril Ramaphosa has paid tribute to the healthcare workers on the frontline of the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus, as the death toll from the virus passes 2 000 in South Africa.
He acknowledged the challenges they face, including a lack of personal protective equipment and staff shortages.
Among those who have lost their lives were healthcare workers, “consummate professionals who cared for the ill, and were a support and comfort to those in hospital isolated from their families,” Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly newsletter to South Africans.
“That the men and women carrying out this most noble and sacred of duties are themselves falling ill and dying is a devastating blow.
They are on the frontline of fighting this pandemic. They are working under great pressure and must carry the psychological strain of knowing they are at risk of contracting the virus. They are the true heroes and heroines of our battle against coronavirus.”
Ramaphosa said that, with the support of the Solidarity Fund and donations from many individual South Africans, businesses, foundations and other governments, the state had been able to procure personal protective equipment for these brave frontline workers.
Where there have been shortages, hospitals are urgently attending to ensuring that they are available, he said.
“We know that access to personal protective equipment is not the only challenge our healthcare workers face. Across the country clinics and hospitals are facing staff shortages. This problem is being attended to,” he said.
Ministers and deputy ministers had been deployed to each of the districts in the country to get a line of sight of specific challenges in these districts and to work with provincial health authorities, Ramaphosa said, adding that a joint effort was needed to safeguard the health of not just frontline workers but the entire workforce.
“There has already been sterling work done by unions in educating members around infection control and prevention and hygiene. They are also supporting the work of the department of employment and labour in conducting workplace inspections to ensure health and safety protocols are in place for returning workers. Many of our trade unions are also providing coronavirus information to their members and employers are running awareness campaigns.”
Ramaphosa also addressed the stigmatisation of people who have tested positive for the virus.
“As a society, we have a collective responsibility to stamp out the stigmatisation of people infected with the coronavirus. There have been disturbing reports of individuals being ostracised from their communities and of communities protesting against coronavirus patients being admitted to local hospitals and clinics.
“This must stop.
“Just as we came together to promote acceptance of people living with HIV and stood firm against victimisation, we must show understanding, tolerance, kindness, empathy and compassion for those who are infected with this virus and for their families.”
Ramaphosa said that this stigmatisation was driven by fear and lack of understanding.
“The best way to overcome our instinctive fear of illness and contagion is to observe the hygiene protocols that are in place. The fear of infection is well-founded and real.”
• We know we have to maintain social distancing, to self-isolate if we have come into contact with those infected and to present to a hospital if we have symptoms;
• We must continue to be guided by facts and not rumours.
“The time when anyone could say they do not know anyone who is infected or affected by coronavirus has long passed.”
“Now, more than ever, our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours need our empathy and support,” the president urged.