Adriaan Basson | Covid-19: Carnage in Eastern Cape, while people still not wearing masks

  • The country's attention will turn to Gauteng and the Eastern Cape following a surge in coronavirus infections. 
  • Gauteng is likely to survive the peak demand for hospital beds.
  • The Eastern Cape's healthcare system has all but collapsed and the ANC will be punished for this.

Winter is coming and South Africa's Covid-19 trajectory is taking a new, but not entirely surprising turn.

Gauteng and the Eastern Cape have taken over from the Western Cape as the provinces with the most new coronavirus infections. The country's focus will shift to these provinces in the next two months, as winter hits our shores.

The Western Cape is far from being in the clear, but there are signs the province may have reached its infections peak (although there is a debate in the scientific community about this, largely caused by the decrease in testing since the beginning of the outbreak).

There is no debate about the numbers for Gauteng and the Eastern Cape: their exponential curves are shooting straight up. They are also two of the country's biggest provinces, in terms of population size (Gauteng has 12.3m residents and the Eastern Cape 6.6m, according to the 2011 National Census. KwaZulu-Natal had 10.3m residents).

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has given three reasons for Gauteng's spike in infections: "inward migration" since the opening-up of the economy; density of the province's cities; and "increased congregating", coupled with poor social behaviour.

I need to pause for a moment on what Mkhize correctly calls a "fatigue" that has set in, causing many South Africans to behave as if the virus has left our shores on the last flight out of OR Tambo.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Our outbreak has only but started. So far, only the Western Cape has experienced the devastating effects of overflowing hospitals and a health system on the brink of collapse.

I could almost hear the pain in Mkhize's voice as he wrote: "South Africans are letting down their guard at a time when the spread of infection is surging. We see poor or no social distancing in communities. Masks are being abandoned or not worn properly and there is laxity setting in around frequent handwashing.

"This will directly influence the rise in numbers in the next two weeks… We do not have a vaccine. We do not have a cure. Our ability to break the cycle of infection depends on our willingness to remain focused and disciplined and take non-pharmaceutical interventions seriously."

A so-what attitude

It infuriates me when I see people not wearing masks in public spaces like shops, malls or walkways. In the beginning few weeks of the lockdown, the majority of South Africans obeyed the call for mask-wearing, physical distancing and handwashing.

But as time has passed, many people have adopted a so-what attitude, seemingly based on the belief that either they are too young and healthy to get the virus, or that if they get the virus, their symptoms will only be mild and they will be A-okay.

But here is the flaw in that thinking: it's not only about YOU. You may already have the virus and be asymptomatic, but pass it on to someone next to you in the queue at your local supermarket. That person may have underlying medical issues or come into contact with an elderly or ill person.

It is extremely selfish and obnoxious not to do the basic things required of each of us to keep the country safe and healthy.

I also miss my family and friends and am annoyed by having to breathe through a piece of cloth every time I leave my house, but this seems like a pretty small price to pay for not unwittingly spreading the virus to someone who could die?

Even more so, if you live in Gauteng, the Western Cape or the Eastern Cape, where many people will die of Covid-19 in the coming days and weeks.

Which brings me to the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. The richest province in the country will likely manage a surge in patients and a spike in demand for ICU beds in the coming weeks and months.

In the Eastern Cape, it's carnage. We have a team of journalists on the ground who are reporting the one horror story after the other. Rubbish and medical waste on the floors, blood on the walls and injured patients helping other patients – and this is at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, the province's wealthiest city.

Years of poor governance by the provincial ANC, corruption and neglect has effectively brought the Eastern Cape healthcare system to its knees.

The mismanagement and further impoverishment of the Eastern Cape and its citizens is one of the ANC's most scandalous legacies. Despite birthing some of the greatest ANC leaders like Tambo, Sisulu, Mandela and Mbeki, the province has been left to rot in the hands of corrupt ANC factions for many years.

The province's inability to look after its Covid-19 and other patients is a direct result thereof.

The ANC will eventually lose control of the Eastern Cape. When that day arrives, we may very well look back and point to this moment as the final breach of trust between the party and its supporters.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24

UPDATE: In an earlier version, the column wrongly stated that Gauteng and the Eastern Cape were the largest provinces in South Africa in terms of population size. This was corrected. KwaZulu-Natal has the second-most residents in the country.

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