LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Covid-19: the next stage could be brutal

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We have misinterpreted the easing of lockdown restrictions, which was just to save the economy, and now we are lambs to the slaughter in the second wave of Covid-19, writes Wilfred Owen. 

I’m rather stat-obsessed and since January I have followed the global Covid trends on a daily basis. Despite our current unfettered freedom of movement, and the fact that malls, retail outlets, restaurants and bars are open, this should not be interpreted as anything but the government acting out of economic necessity. In a sense, they've been compelled to send us as lambs to the slaughter. 

As one specialist advised me, we are in the midst of World War three - only in this case the soldiers being sacrificed for the greater good are the elderly and those with underlying conditions. I think society-at-large is woefully underestimating the severity of the prevailing situation.

You may already know all of this this, but since such a worryingly high percentage of people I've spoken to seem completely oblivious to the true status quo, it bears repeating: our daily confirmed cases have quadrupled in the space of 10 days; and the daily deaths have doubled. 

Second lockdown not an option

My passion for natural sciences has led me to spend far too much time extrapolating all the available data, many peer-reviewed journals, and daily global trends. Simply put, the impact of the December exodus to the Eastern Cape and Garden Route; Christmas gatherings; New Years, etc. is dire. In January and February we are set to fly past our winter peak and we may find ourselves in the top five globally in terms of daily Covid-related deaths (which is approximately 500-1 000 deaths per day).

Unless we institute a hard lockdown again, this figure could surpass 1 000 per day. Unfortunately, a second lockdown is simply not an option anymore. 

Given the government's silence and relaxation of restrictions, all over the city of Cape Town people are eating inside, wearing no masks inside offices, shaking hands, hugging, gathering in groups. The general populace seems blissfully unaware to the facts. Facebook disinformation has spread like the virus itself. People are frustrated and fatigued. 

Not yet at its worse

I should add that there has been a 50% increase in new diagnoses of Generalised Anxiety Disorder and the relapse rate of those with pre-existing mental health issues has doubled. ICU doctors are developing PTSD en masse. Groote Schuur is already at capacity; and private hospitals are already hitting 80%, but this isn't yet close to the worst of it. The next stage is brutal: triage (and so-called "death panels"). 

I have discussed this at length with two specialist doctors - one of whom is a pulmonologist working on the front lines in Groote Schuur ICU - and the general consensus amongst health practitioners is that we may have to wait one to two years for a vaccine to be rolled out to the general public. (Briefly, the reason being that we are waiting for a reliable single-dose protein-based vaccine that doesn't need to be transported at impossibly low temperatures. Add to this the fact our state coffers are all but empty, so we are battling to afford to join the COVAX initiative.)

- Wilfred Owen - a Cape Town lawyer. 

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