What it's like living in England during coronavirus crisis - SA-born nurse

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Carolien Pyne. (Photo: Supplied)
Carolien Pyne. (Photo: Supplied)

If British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had followed the example of President Cyril Ramaphosa sooner, the Covid-19 pandemic probably wouldn’t have assumed crisis proportions in England. This is the view of YOU journalist Pieter van Zyl’s eldest sister, Carolien Pyne (44), who has lived in Buxton in the UK since 1997.

Pyne is a family and community nurse for the National Health Service (NHS) and, as such, she does home visits. She is one of 1.2 million frontline healthcare staff engaged in battle with Covid-19 around the world.

“I’m absolutely terrified of bringing the virus home,” Pyne says in a Facebook video call. Today, she’s home writing reports on children under her supervision in places of safety.

Her husband, Tom (45), and son, Ed (14), both are asthmatics and Covid-19 could prove fatal for them.

“I might be infected already,” Pyne says.

“We need to go out nearly every day, but we’ve waited for weeks for the NHS to test us.

“The only time we’ll be tested is if we develop symptoms and are hospitalised. We’ve been under lockdown for two weeks now,” Pyne explains.

She says her colleagues working in hospitals are worse off.  There’s a shortage of safety masks, so they’re forced to reuse the masks.

“They’re so scared of the patients, they hold their breath when working with them,” she adds.

At the time of writing, Johnson was still in ICU with Covid-19. When the first cases were reported in late January, Johnson proposed the Brits implement “herd immunity” – allowing a large percentage of the population to become infected, so that the survivors could be immune to the virus.

British schools were only closed in mid-March and the lockdown announced on 23 March.

In South Africa, the first infection was confirmed on 5 March in KwaZulu-Natal. President Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on 15 March, and the country has been in lockdown since midnight on 26 March. By 9 April, there were 13 confirmed Covid-19 deaths. 

The death toll from the virus in Europe is horrifying - France has recorded more than 10 000 deaths, Spain more than 13 000 and Italy more than 17 000.

“Boris bragged that he shook hands with infected people. He joked about ventilators being the ‘last gasp’,” Pyne says. “We’re furious with him. I’m very proud of South Africa’s president.”

The BBC has referred to Ramaphosa’s “formidable leadership” and the “ruthless efficiency” with which his government has tackled the coronavirus crisis.

Unlike in SA, the Brits are allowed outside for an hour or so during the day to jog or walk their dogs.

“Nobody’s monitoring that,” Pyne says.

But there have been reports of Brits being fined for being outside longer than an hour.

“Here, people are allowed to buy cigarettes and alcohol,” Pyne says with a wry chuckle, knowing that those things are not available to South Africans during lockdown.

Before going on home visits, Pyne dons a mask, gloves and a protective apron. She also calls first to check whether anyone in the house has a dry cough or high fever.

“But they could be lying to me. How would I know?”

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