I am not sure where to begin. Today is the one-hundred-and-twenty-somethingth day since South Africa went into a lockdown. Of these, some five weeks were a hard lockdown to retard the community transmission of the novel corona virus that causes COVID-19 disease. More importantly, it was to buy time to prepare the country’s health facilities for the onslaught that was inevitable.
It’s about six weeks since I last had something to say about “the situation”. In South Africa. The world. Not because it doesn’t occupy a fair bit of my waking (and sleeping) mind, but because it’s becoming less of a “thing” and more of a thing. It’s reached our village and we’ve moved between zero and three cases at any one time. As far as I know, all cases have recovered. That said, the woman who helps me in the house has lost four members of her extended family. One of my best friends, who lives in Johannesburg, has had symptoms but these weren’t deemed sufficiently severe for a third test. Notwithstanding the killer headache. She went into self isolation and happily she is fine. As I write, a contemporary from school is in a living hell. Her husband has been in an induced coma for the last two weeks. He still is.
Today Sunday’s update was that there was improvement to his heart and liver but that his lungs were still “70% saturated with the covid infection”.
A look at the numbers
Six weeks ago, there were thirty six thousand confirmed cases in South Africa. Now there are more than four hundred and twenty thousand. Nearly 40% have required treatment and 0.1% have / are critical and needed ICU treatment. That’s a total of five hundred and thirty nine people. Those are not overnight stays. They are prolonged stays. My friend’s husband still has weeks ahead of him. First in ICU and then…
We haven’t reached the peak of the pandemic in this country or, it would seem, in the world. The curves are still rising.
Yes, there are regions and countries that seem to have things under control, but the fears of second waves remain. The EU is planning for that eventuality. Notwithstanding any advances in the development of a vaccine and/or treatments.
down up – it’s a complicated, fickle disease
Infectious diseases spread rapidly. That’s stating the obvious, but it bears repeating. I keep on hearing people questioning how the numbers can double so quickly. Well, just think about it: Dad gets home from work. Kisses mom hello. Dad kisses the two kids good night. The kids cuddle granny the next day. Dad (one person) came home with the virus. He has potentially given it to another four people. If all four are infected with enough of the virus to become infected and infectious, they will spread it. Granny will cuddle the other grandchildren. Mom will go to work and potentially infect her co-workers, and so how many people infected – from just Dad? All this complicated by the reality that the children may never display symptoms or get ill. Or be diagnosed. But will be infectious.
None of this is new. It’s what all the authorities are saying and it’s also why the World Health Organisation did an about turn on wearing cloth face masks. The thing is: even with, in South Africa, a more than 60% recovery rate: if people get sick, they get very, very sick. For a long time. In hospital. It’s a horrible disease and it takes a long time to recover.
When I marked twenty one days of lockdown, I lamented the heavy handed conduct of the authorities. I celebrated being able to cook with wine. I noted that contrariness regarding tobacco sales which had simply descended into the underworld and that all the smokers I know are still smoking. At extortionate prices.
This tiny baggie of tobacco in which our gardener indulged, and from which he’d already had one entjie (little end), cost him R30 (just over $2). He would get another entjie from that last bit. He is a casual worker who eventually found his birth certificate that enabled him to register for food parcels for his family – only two weeks ago. In the meantime, when he had money, tobacco took precedence.
On day 54 of the lockdown, I said I was tired. On day 125, I’m not just tired, I’m worn down and confused. I know I’m not alone. We went from a lifting of some restrictions and feeling not quite so hemmed in because there was no curfew and we could excercise and take the odd day trip. Then, suddenly, just like that, on a Sunday evening about two weeks ago, boom! the President announced the reinstatement of a curfew, toasting it with a ban on alcohol sales. I can no longer cook with wine.
Needless to say there is an ongoing hue and cry: when the ban was lifted on 1 July, there was a more than 60% increase in alcohol related trauma. This stretched, certainly in my home province, the already strained high care facilities. So, I do get it.
It’s also common knowledge that there is an “alcohol problem” in South Africa. As with smoking, though, it’s about a third of the population that drinks, and amonn them, very heavy drinkers. As with smoking (she repeats herself), it’s the minority who ruin it for those who
drink moderately enjoy an aperitif and/or a glass of wine over dinner.
It’s not only booze
After the hard lockdown, restaurants remained unable to sell and serve alcohol. Initially they could offer takeways and then were permitted to host diners to enjoy a meal. At COVID-19 standard social distances. Suddenly, an 9pm curfew means in the cities, that kitchens probably have to close at 7pm and staff leave for home by 8pm.
“Dinner service?” I hear you ask. Well, exactly.
Oh, and leisure accommodation may not accept guests. Business travellers, yes. You can take a trip into the country, in your home province, but you can’t stay over. Oh, and I can go to church, and I can sit in a café and have a coffee, with complete strangers, but I can’t visit my friends who are family. Let alone family.
Tail wagging the dog – in the taxi and at school
Oh, and I can sit in a minibus taxi – also with complete strangers – full to capacity – as long as the windows are open. Because the industry threatened to shut down the country if they couldn’t operate at 100%.
Schools are out. Again. Because the teachers’ unions are afraid
for the children that the children might get ill, infect the teachers and/or take the infection home to granny and grandpa.
Like teachers don’t bring the virus to school because they don’t ride in taxis or go to the shops to buy food to feed their families?
As a former educator and with a lifelong interest in education, I know this is doing almost as much damage to this generation of scholars as is the virus. South Africa can ill afford yet another lost generation.
Where is she going with this?
Well, you may well ask and getting back to the booze: the point is about more than the alcohol. It’s about the value chains. Yes, plural.
Let’s look briefly at one that’s rather close to home: the wine industry. Our village is in the heart of the winelands, so let’s start in the vineyard, where people, led by viticulturists, work to tend the vines and pick the grapes to take to the cellar. The grapes are pressed and the juice nurtured to turn into fine wine – using equipment and vats and barrels – by highly skilled people. Then it must be bottled and labelled. The equipment in the vineyards and cellars must be procured and maintained. Bottles and lables must be sourced from producers.
This, all before the wine even hits a retail counter in a cellar, bottle store or bistro. The knock-on effects on livelihoods are no less devastating than COVID-19. And as exponential. This is just one element of the tourism and hospitality sector. There is a myriad of others.
Losing more than money
The South African government is also losing money and face. In an op ed piece, the Premier of the Western Cape anticipates the loss of two hundred and forty thousand jobs. Just in our province. Two people in my close circle have businesses that have either not launched, and/or not functioned because of, the lockdown and specifically the alcohol ban. No income for going on five months but still having to feed, clothe and meet the ongoing obligations of maintaining premises?
Then, when the hospitality sector holds a peaceful demonstration, the conduct of the police is reminiscent of the apartheid era, I am just simply at a loss for words.
I still don’t know where I’m going with this, and I’m not sure anyone really understands what lies behind the mixed messages emanating from the powers that be. As a Piscean, I’m known for chasing my tail and flapping about before making a decision. I like to think, though, that when I’ve made a decision its mostly on logical and solid ground. I then stick to my guns. What’s going on around me continues, it seems to me, to be a slippery slope and a recipe peppered with very little common sense.
The legislation governing the state of disaster under which South Africa currently exists, provides for the government to continue extending the declaration every month for as long as necessary. It has been extended to mid-August. Looking dipassionately at the numbers and listening to the daily announcements of confirmed cases of between ten- and thirteen thousand, even I can see that the numbers have not peaked in South Africa. Those who know much more than I, say so, too. It begs the question: how much longer will we be living in a constant state of confusion and incoherence?
What I’m doing
I miss seeing the people I care about. I miss going to my regular places. I’m not sure I’m coping. I am doing. Keeping my head down and diligently doing the bit of work I’ve (happily) found, and looking for more. I am grateful that the McGregor Saturday market has begun again. It means that after three months, suddenly, my week has shape again: kitchen day is back. There is one day in the week when I must get out of bed and wear something other than sweat pants because there is somewhere to go, and people to see.
With a new addition to my market repertoire: sourdough rolls.
More of “mother”, sourdough bread and rolls, anon.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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