Melanie Verwoerd: Why I’m really scared at the moment

We should all be wearing masks, if not for ourselves, then for the sake of others, says the writer. (FatCamera, Getty Images)
We should all be wearing masks, if not for ourselves, then for the sake of others, says the writer. (FatCamera, Getty Images)

Having seen what this virus can do, I can’t bear to think what we will look like as a country when this pandemic spreads amongst the millions of people who have suppressed immune systems, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

I am really scared at the moment - and I don’t scare easily. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started I have only been really scared once before. As I have mentioned previously, my family contracted the virus in March.

Even when the results started to come back positive, I was more concerned than scared.  We were coping and the symptoms were relatively mild.  

Ten days after my daughter was diagnosed things changed. Even though her (very high) fever had broken a few days earlier, her chest was still extremely tight.

She could not hold her breathe for two seconds.

Lying down was uncomfortable as she struggled to breath and I could see the panic in her eyes. The specialist told us to bring her into hospital the next morning and warned that she might need to be admitted.  

That was the longest night of my life. My daughter’s panicked eyes haunted me as I desperately tried to suppress the images of people dying alone in ICU.

The next day she had to be dropped outside of Mediclinic.

Of course they don’t allow you to go into hospital - so my child was left in the hands of strangers in hazard suits, while I could only pray that I would see her again.    

I do not wish that experience on anyone.   

Yesterday was the second time I got really scared.

I had a medical appointment in the Cape Town CBD. The city was buzzing with many people on the streets. What really shocked me was how many people were not wearing their masks properly.

Everyone HAD masks, but instead of being worn correctly, many were either draped around their necks, pushed Cyril-style on their foreheads or even swung around their fingers.

Even the beggar I gave money to, had one draped around his neck until I insisted he put it over his mouth and nose.  

Later in the afternoon, I took my sick cat to the vet.

As I pulled out of my garage a group of cyclists came past. They were clearly on a joy ride - had no shirts on and again no masks. On my short journey to the surgery, I spotted numerous walkers with their dogs, sans masks.

On my journey back, numerous domestic workers left houses on their way to catch taxis, again mask-less.  

It seems to me that people are starting to lose their fear of this virus.

Because the growth in the infection rate (with the exception of the Western Cape) as well as the number of deaths remain low, people seem to think we are over it.  

As the frustrations with lockdown grow, many people argue that Covid-19 is little more than a cold or a light flu and that we should allow the virus to run its course in order to achieve herd immunity.

"Government is making a Covid mountain out of a little mole hill," argued one analyst on a radio programme on Sunday.

"They must trust me to decide for myself what is the best to do." 

This really infuriates me.  

Unless you have had personal experience with this virus, don’t tell me that it is just a cold or light flu.

Unless you have looked into the panicked eyes of a loved one who is struggling to get oxygen, while the virus ravages through her/his body, don’t talk to me about mole hills.  

Unless you have taken one of your loved ones to hospital, not knowing if you will ever see them again - or will be able to hold their hands while they die, do not tell me that every death is costing us x-billions of rands. (Would you care if it was your child?)  

Unless you have seen how sick a middle-class, young person without any underlying conditions, a good immune system and access to private medical care can become, do not try and tell me that this pandemic must run its course, for the sake of herd immunity.  

Please just keep quiet and let real experts speak. 

Having seen what this virus can do, I can’t bear to think what we will look like as a country when this pandemic spreads amongst the millions of people who have suppressed immune systems.  

And it is coming.  

What every (real) virologist in the country has told us, is that we have not succeeded in stopping the spread of this pandemic - we have only bought some time.  

Unlike the tragedies of hundreds of thousands who have died around the world our family’s story ended well. After X-rays and oxygen, my daughter was released into the care of her paramedic husband.  

In the two months since our experience with Covid-19 started, we have recovered, even though we still have occasional bouts of exhaustion and for a long time our lungs "complained" bitterly during exercise.  

Hopefully most people will also recover, but you will never know whether you, or your loved ones, will be one of the 2% percent of people who don’t. 

So please mask up, wash your hands and practise social distancing.

If not for yourself, for all the others who could get a lot sicker than you.  

 - Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland


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