Countering Covid-19: South Africa 21 days in

The world seems to have stopped and united over a single concern: Covid-19. In the six years I’ve been blogging this is the first time I’ve ever written serveral posts on a single topic in such quick succession. I’ve gone from mentioning Covid-19 as a tangential aside, to actually writing an update. Only one burble was a little tongue in cheek. Writing this is part of my own processing what’s going on and also because South Africa is not often mentioned in the global statistics. So often, too, Africa gets a bad rep. On April 4th, I got this WhatsApp message:

So this is how the British press are reporting SA handling of the virus?? Is it correct??

My honest answer was “yes” and I sent, in return, this link to share my thoughts on the lockdown.

My son from another mother’s response:

Will you write an update?

So, now

Just 24 days ago, South Africa had fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and no deaths. Now, there are more than 2,500 and 34 deaths. That’s an average of just under 105 new cases confirmed every day.

Bad news or good news?

As I write, I’m wondering whether I should start with the bad news or the good news. As I’m not really sure, I’ll begin with an update on the figures. Just four days ago, there were 1,8 million cases in the world. The number of confirmed cases, globally, is more than 2 million. It looks, though, to my layman’s eye, that the curve is beginning to be just a little less steep.

Total confirmed Covid-19 cases: 9 January to 14 April 2020 (Source)
The number of deaths does not bear thinking about. They are far too many for the burdened health systems of the three most affected countries. What we all do think about, though, is what if it happens to us? What if one of those “deceased” is someone we know? In my virtual, world wide friendship circle, I know people who have lost loved ones.

What of our near and dear who fall into the risk groups? Yes, there are recoveries and although those figures are important, what is worrying the health authorities is that this is more than a pretty lousy bug. It’s virulent, has crossed species (more than once if you count how it ended up in humans). Humanity has no real protection from it.

Meanwhile, in South Africa

We should have been ending our 21-day lockdown tomorrow (Friday). We are not. This is a summary of the last two and a half weeks:

  1. At the end of week one, a national screening and testing programme was announced and rolled out. Mass screening is centred on the so-called hotspots identified through geotracking of cases.
  2. Where tests are positive, they are followed up with aggressive contact tracing which includes the use of mobile phone geo tracking. Where individuals are unable or unwilling to self-isolate and quarantine, arrangements will be made to help. There are cases where individuals have been arrested for refusing to do so.
  3. Towards the end of week two, on the eve of Good Friday, the President told the nation that we’d be staying at home until 30 April.
  4. The figures for testing, confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries look like this:

    South Africa’s Covid-19 statistics as at 16 April 2020 (Source)
    I’ve been working on this post since yesterday, and my notes show what’s happened to the figures over night.
  5. There are three focal points for the disease in South Africa and these are, expectedly, in the three major economic hubs. The numbers, in ascending order, in the densely populated metropoles of Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban). It was in this province, KwaZulu-Natal, that South Africa’s patient zero was recorded.

    Map courtesy of Johns Hopkins University and the data courtesy of the National Department of Health, South Africa. Annotations added.
  6. Closer to home, in the broader Western Cape and specifically the Cape Winelands district into which our municipality, Langerberg falls, the picture looks like this. There is a single case in our broader municipality which consists of five towns and villages, Robertson, Ashton, Bonnievale, Montagu and McGregor.

    Courtesy of the Provincial Government, with my annotations.
  7. In a virtual public meeting on Sunday, the Minister’s Advisor, Prof Salim Abdool Karim told us among other things, that South Africa’s curve has been atypical. It’s been a steady rise with a blip, ironically, the day the lockdown began.

    The exponential rise in cases has been arrested.
  8. In addition, Karim summarised the three waves of the South African epidemic, contrasting what was expected (top two graphs below), with what has actually happened (bottom two graphs below):
  9. He concluded that the flattening of the South African curve is not cause for celebration or complacency. It just provides breathing space: time for preparation for an anticipated and inevitable second wave following the lifting of restrictions.
  10. Just two or so hours ago, there was a government briefing on the ongoing lockdown and restrictions. My takeaways:
    1. continued prohibition on the sale of tobacco and alcohol
    2. no relaxation on the sale of cooked food
    3. children may be moved (with papers) between the custodial parents’ homes
    4. mines, with restrictions may return to 50% production
    5. certain warehouses and associated trades (plumbers, electricians) may operate
    6. the lockdown will be eased incrementally in an “orderly” manner.
    7. restrictions, still to be defined, will continue into May and beyond.

Meanwhile, “at home”

So, while many of us have been good children, and stayed at home, many have not. In the village our police captain was inundated with questions ranging from dog-walking to overnight hikes into the mountains. On day ten, the police issued eleven fines to people at home and who abused members of the police force. Yesterday, The Husband saw more fines being issued to people who thought that by wandering around with a bag, “shopping”, was an adequate “cover”. Countrywide more than 2,000 have been arrested, including a wedding party.

In the poorer parts of our village and in the rest of the country, especially in informal villages, social distancing is a mere dream. People live cheek by jowl and are hungry. This is fomenting unrest and violence. Even though it’s widely reported that there has been a significant drop off in trauma cases at hospitals, there’s been a significant rise in gender based violence.

Further from home, and in the rest of the country, there are incidents of army brutality, looting and similar patterns of I’ll just do what I like, when I like. Then there are the folk who genuinely don’t understand what all the fuss is about: an invisible threat.

Good News and Bad

Today, I am enormously proud of what South Africa has achieved in managing the pandemic locally. That the tide has been stemmed allowing for preparation for what might still come is a win. It’s time to prepare beds, purchase equipment and for South Africans to adapt to a “new normal”. A delay also means that the clever people working behind the scenes may also find better treatments, drug combinations and in time, a vaccine.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s clear that the lockdown will certainly not be lifted on 1 May. Life, business and especially hospitality and tourism will not go back to normal. The truism “the virus doesn’t move, people move the virus” also means that travel restrictions will stay in place. International travel will take years to go back to what it once was. I am imagining that “covid-free” areas may take steps to stay that way. Whatever that might mean. On a personal level: it may mean that I won’t be rushing into Cape Town in a hurry.

At this point, I’m not sharing my thoughts on the implications of lockdown measures and how they’re implemented and managed. I will. In time. Along with how I think it’s going to affect our daily lives.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Corona Virus feature image: CDC on Unsplash
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd