Health authorities were taken by surprise this week with the arrival of the second wave of the Covid-19 virus, just as millions of South Africans were about to set off on holiday.
By Tanya Waterworth, Chelsea Geach, Shaun Smillie and Norman Cloete
The holidays are just days away, but the destinations Joburgers will be rushing to will be overshadowed by a virus that has made a strong comeback over the last couple of days.
It is likely to be on beaches, the restaurants, clubs, anywhere where people are set to gather and celebrate the ending of a hard year.
In Kwazulu-Natal, a dark cloud hung over the province’s beaches yesterday as urgent discussions took place at national and provincial level about whether beaches would be closed – or not – during the festive season.
What has taken health authorities by surprise this week was the arrival of the second wave of the Covid-19 virus, just as millions of South Africans were about to set off on holiday.
This exponential increase in cases in some provinces has been driven by super spreader events among teenagers.
And the fear is that the peak of the second wave will likely be even worse than the first.
“This means that we should expect faster rising numbers with a higher peak than in the first wave,” the Health minister Zweli Mkhize said.
Those Joburgers who are heading to the Western Cape will find that the province is experiencing rising infection rates that are higher than they were during the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic.
“Where we are today has exceeded where we were at the highest point in June,” said Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever.
Yesterday, the Western Cape passed the grim milestone of 5000 deaths due to Covid-19.
Van der Heever said that hospitals and primary care facilities in the province will be considering dialling back their services again in order to free up capacity for Covid patients, but that will be managed by each facility according to capacity and demand.
Infection rates have been increasing in Johannesburg, but they have yet to surpass the numbers seen during the first wave when there were 7500 Covid 19 patients in hospital. On Thursday, the number of Covid patients in Johannesburg hospitals stood at 1355.
Jack Bloom, the DA Gauteng Shadow Health MEC, said he wasn’t concerned that Joburg would run out of beds. He was worried that medical staff numbers may not be adequate to deal with the surge, as traditionally many head on holiday over the festive season. Bloom also criticised the fact that since November 4, there had been no infection rate figures for the different districts in Johannesburg.
“So where is this happening in Gauteng, where is it being driven? I think it is very wrong that the public is being kept in the dark and can’t take precautions,” said Bloom.
Alex Welte, the research professor at the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University, stressed that this festive season would have to be one without large parties or gatherings, if we hoped to slow the infection rates.
“There was a lull with collective immunity and people getting on board with wearing masks and so on. But now it is the shopping season and the party season and people are saying let’s go and party and there is only one outcome from this and that is the spread of the virus” said Welte.
Keep those get-togethers small, he advises.
With thousands of visitors expected to arrive in KwaZulu-Natal this week, as well as thousands expected to flock to Durban’s beaches on the Reconciliation Day public holiday on December 16, the suspicion is that there will be stringent measures put in place to contain crowds and ensure the public is adhering to Covid-19 protocols. This will apply to beaches and public spaces, such as parks.
KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said the National Coronavirus Council was meeting yesterday when the issue of beaches would be discussed. He would not commit to when a decision would be announced, saying it would be premature. It has been speculated that President Cyril Ramaphosa will announce the decision by the end of the weekend. He didn’t rule out beach closures.
He said no alcohol would be allowed on beaches and that crime fighting operations would be intensified in the coming weeks, including an increased number of roadblocks.
But as we prepare for a period of more infections, there was some good news this week, when the Health Funders Association announced that medical aids would cover Covid tests and related treatments.
“Given the healthcare costs associated with testing and treating, it is important for consumers to have peace of mind in knowing that the disease is covered by their medical scheme and to understand the benefits which they are entitled to,” said the CEO of the Health Funders Association, Lerato Mosiah.