The coronavirus pandemic is leaving a trail of destruction worldwide. And in SA, where about 1 000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, the national lockdown will have a dramatic impact on everything – including hospital visits.
The national lockdown is in full swing after going into effect at midnight. The country’s largest hospital groups have introduced new prevention measures to stop the spread of the virus – but that means you probably won’t be allowed to visit a friend or loved one in hospital.
There are, however, exceptions – and South Africans must familiarise themselves with the conditions.
The three largest hospital groups have implemented the following rules during the 21-day lockdown.
The Netcare Group suspended its visiting hours on Wednesday morning already. The only exceptions are for neonatal and paediatric units, and patients that are critically ill.
Dr Richard Friedland, Netcare Group CEO, says the group needed to adopt these stringent measures to protect its employees and patients who can’t be discharged.
Visiting hours for general wards and intensive and high-care units have been suspended with immediate effect, he adds.
“Strict protocols are being followed in other departments. Only one parent at a time may visit a baby in the neonatal unit – provided the visiting parent hadn’t been exposed to Covid-19. The parent must also accept that there are strict infection-control measures in place to mitigate the risks to their baby and other babies in the group’s facilities,” Dr Friedland explains.
Only parents may visit – no grandparents, siblings or any other family members are permitted in neonatal units.
In Netcare’s paediatric wards only one parent at a time may be with their child. The same restrictions apply as in the neonatal units.
“Other exceptions, in the case of gravely ill patients, can be arranged with the individual hospital’s management. These exceptions will be granted to a minimum number of visitors and visitors are expected to wear a mask,” Dr Friedland emphasises.
The Mediclinic Group has taken strict precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus, says spokesperson Kevin Seaman.
“Though we haven’t yet suspended visiting hours entirely, we can’t promise that it won’t happen,” he says.
Mediclinic’s visiting hours are now 3-4pm and 7-8pm.
“Only one visitor per patient is allowed at a time – and no patient can have different visitors in that hour,” he says, adding that it means family members can’t visit in shifts during any particular visiting hour.
He says the decision was made because Mediclinic’s management realises it’s still important to South Africans to be able to see their loved ones.
“But we’re following strict protocols and rules because we realise what a high-risk time this is,” he adds.
“We want to caution South Africans that the rules involving visiting hours may change at any moment. It can change within the next hour or day – none of us really know. We ask visitors, especially those travelling from afar, to contact the specific hospital first to confirm whether visitors are still allowed.”
This hospital group pre-emptively adjusted its visiting hours and protocols, including the number of visitors allowed in a ward. This was done to limit the number of people visiting Life Healthcare facilities, the group says in a statement.
But starting today, 27 March, visiting hours for general wards and intensive and high care have been suspended.
There are exceptions. In neonatal units one parent is allowed at a time. But it’s subject to strict criteria to ensure the parent is healthy.
Paediatric units are also allowing only one person at a time per child. The same health criteria as for the neonatal units apply.
In rare instances a critically ill patient may receive a visitor – but that’s at the discretion of the individual hospital’s management.
Visitors are expected to wear a mask for the duration of the visit.
“As our president has said, ‘We’re in this together – we shall triumph by working together’.”
National health department spokesperson Popo Maja confirms that no permit is needed to visit someone in hospital – in the same way as you don’t need a permit for grocery shopping.
“But you do need a permit if you want to go to work,” he adds.
He says all hospital groups have the responsibility to implement measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19.
“Everyone – each individual and organisation – needs to put measures in place to stop the spread of Covid-19. The department of health isn’t sure exactly what each individual hospital’s stance on this is.”