South Africa’s Covid crisis ramps up

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Deaan Vivier

Members of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) met on Sunday, after hospitals and health workers called for a harsher lockdown to bring the second wave of Covid-19 under control, as the country’s total cases breached one million.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu confirmed the council had met.

Stricter regulations were expected to be on the agenda as the number of South Africans infected with the coronavirus continues to rise, reaching 1 004 413 on Sunday.

Hospital officials and healthcare unions have raised their concerns about the growing pressure on doctors and nurses, saying that beds are filling up fast as more and more people need hospitalisation.

On Sunday there were 132 804 active Covid-19 cases in South Africa, 46 710 of them in KwaZulu-Natal.

READ | Durban community activist pleads for self-imposed lockdown as Covid-19 cases rise

On Christmas Day, there were 358 patients in intensive care units in both private and public hospitals in KZN, 110 of whom were on ventilators.

Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the rapid spike in cases showed the virus was spreading much more quickly than it had in the first wave. He also warned that government might have to review the current lockdown restrictions and consider further measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Simon Hlungwani, president of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), said the new variant of Covid-19 was adding to the huge increase in cases, which was placing a massive strain on the already overwhelmed health system.

“The more people that get infected, the more that end up being admitted to hospital, the more risky the situation for nurses is going to get,” he added.

“Every day we are getting news about people that we know who have succumbed to this virus, so I honestly don’t understand how some can continue behaving as if things are normal.”
uMgungundlovu District Coronavirus Command Council co-chair Thobekile Maphumulo

Hlungwani appealed to the public to help healthcare workers by wearing masks, washing their hands and using sanitiser and by practising social distancing.

His appeal was echoed by the co-chairperson of the uMgungundlovu District Coronavirus Command Council, Mayor Thobekile Maphumulo, who said she was concerned about the level of complacency people had when it came to wearing masks and doing social distancing.

“When we moved to level one of the lockdown a large number of our people stopped adhering to the regulations,” she added.

“Most of them, especially our youth, are behaving recklessly and they act like this virus is no longer a threat.

“For me that attitude of deliberate ignorance is as dangerous as Covid-19 itself.”

Maphumulo stressed that uMgungundlovu remained a hotspot with the district having recorded 20 035 cases and 493 deaths as of December 26.

“Every day we are getting news about people that we know who have succumbed to this virus, so I honestly don’t understand how some can continue behaving as if things are normal.

“We need to change the way we do things before families and groups of friends are wiped out,” said Maphumulo. She is especially concerned about the practice of burying loved ones in the yards or gardens of homes in the rural areas.

With the impact of Covid-19 on groundwater not yet known, she worries about the risk to health of those drinking borehole water.

“The heads of villages and traditional leadership need to consider establishing local cemeteries where the victims of Covid-19 will be buried until we know that it’s safe for them to be buried at home,” Maphumulo said.

“We do not think that a total ban on alcohol sales will be a solution either in the short- or long-term in arresting the resurgence and uptick in the number of positive cases for Covid-19.”
Liquor Traders Formation spokesperson Lucky Ntimane

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to make an announcement on the NCCC’s decisions ahead of New Year’s Eve.

Any changes to the Disaster Management Act regulations will have to balance curbing the spread of the virus with ensuring South Africans — many of whom have faced pay cuts or lost their jobs this year — remain economically afloat.

The Liquor Traders Formation has already warned that 250 000 direct jobs linked to the tavern sector could be lost if a total ban on the sale of alcohol is reinstated.

Lucky Ntimane, spokesperson for the organisation, said: “We call on our government to continue to work with the alcohol industry to find solutions of mutual benefit on how to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in a manner that can safeguard the one million livelihoods that are dependent on the alcohol industry.

“We do not think that a total ban on alcohol sales will be a solution either in the short- or long-term in arresting the resurgence and uptick in the number of positive cases for Covid-19.

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“We propose the consideration of two options: a measured curfew that restricts unnecessary movement of the general public while balancing the interests of the tourism sector which is dependent on the availability of alcohol; and that alcohol restrictions should still provide for off-premises sales to allow for consumption at home and provide a special dispensation for taverns to operate as off-premises outlets with restricted hours.”

People appear to have heeded President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to stay away from beaches and public parks, in a bid to stem the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases.

In Pietermaritzburg the gates of Wylie Park, in Athlone, were closed and Alexandra Park was sealed off with fencing to prevent people from breaking the rules.

The KZN National Botanical Gardens in Mayor’s Walk were open yesterday, but The Witness was unable to establish how many people had visited the gardens.

In Durban, no major incidents were reported as both residents and holidaymakers heeded the call to stay away. eThekwini municipal spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela, said: “We are fighting a pandemic, so we need to comply with the regulations.

“A failure to do that means we will be unable to win this war.”

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