Covid-19: Eastern Cape fears as worst predicted

A health department official walks past beds set up at a temporary field hospital up to deal with an expected surge in cases of the coronavirus disease at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town. Image: Mike Hutchings/REUTERS
SA has already been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown declared by the government, but indications are the worst may still come for the Eastern Cape, even as it is business as usual for most people on the streets of the metros, towns and rural villages of the province.

Today marks 80 days since “patient zero”, the first infection recorded in the province. Since then, 101 people have died.

The province may be tracking the high rate of infection of the Western Cape, doubling here every two to three days, about the same number of infections contracted in the Western Cape just before the death toll in that province started mounting.

This may have dire consequences for this province’s health care sector, given the impact so far on health services in the Western Cape, which has an infection rate of about 1,000 cases a day.

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Already, patients visiting hospitals for trauma cases unrelated to Covid-19 are at risk of dying because health facilities are becoming overcrowded.

At the weekend, more cases of injuries as a result of intoxication, domestic violence, stabbings and gunshots were admitted at hospitals across the province.

There were also reports of people who have driven under the influence being involved in numerous motor vehicle accidents.

There are concerns that the relaxation of restrictions under level three of the lockdown regulations was the reason people were not adhering to strict measures, and the cause was the reselling of alcohol, as some communities have seen masses of people hosting house parties this past weekend.

Referring to people who walked on the streets without masks and those drinking alcohol away from their homes, Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said: “It can’t be business as usual.”

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“People are not taking precautions and adhering to social distancing. People are going to die. They are now at higher risk of dying from trauma cases because of alcohol. It is in their hands to take precautions,” he said.

But the impact of the lockdown has also had an impact on people, with national survey results from the Human Sciences Resource Council (HSRC) and the University of Johannesburg pointing to higher levels of psychological distress including fear, sadness, anger and other negative emotions over the duration of strict lockdown.

The findings show how feelings of stress, sadness and depression, anger, boredom and loneliness steadily increased. According to the survey, the strongest reason for psychological distress was hunger.

From May 3 to 23, a total of 27,165 Covid-19 tests were conducted in the Eastern Cape, with 1,655 positive results.

Comparisons with other provinces show that the EC Cape’s rate of infection accelerated rapidly. While EC new infections were similar to those reported by Gauteng, that province performed more than four times as many tests in the same period.

In the final week of that period — May 17 to 23 — the Western Cape had 4,397 positive tests (proportional positives of 17.5%), the Eastern Cape 486 positive tests (8.8%), Gauteng 383 (1.8%) and KZN 241 (2.1%).

And the true number of cases could be a lot higher, with the NICD acknowledging that testing backlogs were a concern.

Several of the EC’s largest public hospitals are in apparent disarray and buckling under the pressure, with Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane closing three units after staff contracted the virus, Frere Hospital in East London being issued with a closure over unsafe working conditions, patients being turned away at  Livingstone and Provincial hospitals in Port Elizabeth over linen shortages and the Motherwell Community Health Centre closing its doors after staff refused to work without adequate PPE gear.

Duncan Village activist Lunalo Mdingi, said level three was tougher than the previous levels.

“For some people it means free for all to do their normal business and not adhering to the regulations. We had hopes that the government easing the regulations would see people taking care of themselves because there are many more people on the road than before, but they have let loose and don’t seem to care. People who don’t adhere to regulations will get sick and infect those around them, that is the scary part,” said Mdingi.

Businesswoman Neliswa Ngqula from Hamberg said it was disappointing that some people were adhering to the regulations.

“It seems they are in level one already. People don’t care.”

Ngwenya called on liquor outlets operators, particularly those operating in townships, not to sell alcohol outside the days that were not stipulated under lockdown regulations.

He said social gatherings were not allowed under level three regulations and “the risk of a huge increase in infections is now greater than it has been since the start of the outbreak”.

There are some positives. Traditional leaders in the province have strongly supported residents to comply with social distancing and hygiene measures such as washing hands and wearing face masks, to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and not put lives at risk.

The royals said that weddings and inaugurations of traditional ceremonies remained suspended and urged people to drink responsibly.

Western Thembuland spokesperson Nkosi Temba TT Matanzima and AbaThembu acting King Azenathi Dalindyebo said incidents of crime had increased since the opening of liquor stores.

The royals said that they had also noticed that people in villages were not observing social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces.

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Figures on Saturday night show the EC’s 101 deaths were more than double Gauteng’s 47 fatalities. Only the Western Cape has more deaths, with 729 recorded by Saturday night.

Sunday’s figures had not been released by the time of writing.

By Madeleine Chaput, Luke Charter, Ray Hartle, Sandiso Phaliso and Matthew Savides – DispatchLIVE –



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