I fear CoViD-19 is being mishandled in South Africa, the statistics understated and the lockdown wasted. Scarily, victims in KZN will not be allowed to self-isolate – the Government will take them away to a mass quarantine facility. As the province with the most dead, there’s suspiciously a lack of news after outbreaks. The KZN Health Department has radically decided to stop naming infected hospitals, which removes the Constitutional rights of patients to choose the hospital safest for them. It doesn’t seem coincidental that this new approach happened after a nurse got infected in a Public hospital for the first time. I address President Cyril Ramaphosa, recommending honesty as the best step forward. I’ve asked many questions and have suggested what needs to be done to keep us safe, during and after lockdown.
If you prefer to listen rather than read, download the mp3 here.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, is South Africa’s epicentre for the SARS-2 coronavirus the municipality of eThekwini? Is my 72-year old father living in the virus’ hot zone? Why is the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government blatantly withholding information that the Public needs? Are we being nationally misled regarding the competency of your administration?
I want to commend your actions in the fight against this coronavirus and the CoViD-19 disease it causes. However, unanswered questions taint your effort and pause my compliment. I appeal to you to calm my apprehension, correct mistakes, provide useful information and, overall, act commandingly and honestly.
There has been a lack of transparency, either deliberate or the result of ineptitude. That is evident in us not being informed of figures in majorly affected areas such as eThekwini, especially the City of Durban within it. In the mother province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), 617 are infected, our dead piled at 22. Nationally, the numbers are respectively 3,158 and 54 (April 19).
I’ll explain why I believe the statistics are understated.
DURBAN PROVES INFECTIONS ARE HIGHER THAN STATED
The provinces of Gauteng and the Western Cape have the most infections, but KZN has the most deaths. Of those, most are in eThekwini Municipality, especially in Durban and surrounding areas. Corpses matter, as does being the point of origin. It’s reasonable to assume that a lack of testing is the reason why KZN isn’t higher up the rank. The following facts and situations make that assumption stronger.
In eThekwini, a cloud of CoViD stretches north to south, seemingly smallest on the edges and darkest in between where Durban and its surrounds are.
SARS-2-CoV was probably in our country longer than we realise. But the man treated as Patient Zero, and several of his friends, transferred from Italy through Johannesburg to King Shaka airport on March 1. Later, they’d all test positive for the disease.
At the end of March, it was reported that an elderly lady from the Bluff, an area on the backside of Durban harbour, had CoViD-19. This was discovered after she’d been transferred to the Bill Buchanan Association for Aged in Morningside, a suburb approximately 2km from the city centre. It’s unknown whether she brought the disease with her or caught it at the nursing home. But she did infect a patient in the bed next to her before being taken to the St Augustine’s Hospital on the Berea. The first lady died. The status of the second person unknown.
The second known death at the hospital was on April 1. Tholakele Shandu was a forty-five-year-old teacher at Plattdrive Primary School in Isipingo. She resided in uMlazi. A fellow teacher and a pupil tested positive too. As reference to what will be said further-on, both areas are between Durban and Amanzimtoti.
St Augustine’s, a private hospital, became the biggest outbreak in South Africa. 48 nurses and 18 patients tested positive for the virus. 5, including the two previously mentioned, were dead by April 9.
The vexation is that only half of the occupants and suppliers were tested, and those statistics were only after half the tests were in. Effectively a quarter were tested, yielding 66 infections. That quarter would surely be less if you’d included all the people they’d encountered.
The situation argues that there are more infected but your administration has failed to keep us updated the past week. And, for 2 weeks, there’s been no news on the Bill Buchanan Association for Aged, nor on the other patient who was transferred to the Public hospital on Addington Beach, where I was born 48 years ago.
Instead, there’s been a worrying splinter. Two days after a patient was dismissed from St Augustine, she landed up at Kingsway Hospital which found her to be infected. It’s unknown if she caught it at St. Augustine’s but elsewhere would be a remarkable coincidence. Maybe more important is what her daughter related – St. Augustine’s allegedly didn’t test her mother because she had no symptoms. If that’s true, it could be deadly incompetency. Netcare, the owners of the hospital, and the South African Health Department, would’ve been aware for 2 months that the appearance of symptoms varies greatly, and that the most dangerous carriers are asymptomatic.
How can your administration be trusted in managing South Africa if it cannot manage the first outbreak?
On April 14, the Checkers supermarket at Ballito Junction closed after an employee tested positive. Ballito is one of eThekwini’s wealthy suburbs. It’s 14km north of the King Shaka Airport, the town a likely destination for many travellers.
On April 15, it was announced that the country has 7 more dead, and that 6 were from KwaZulu-Natal.
The following day, there was lots of bad news.
6 healthcare workers at Kingsway Hospital were discovered to have CoViD-19. The hospital is in Amanzimtoti, approximately 15km south of the Bluff. Disturbingly, the patient of origin displayed “flu” symptoms on April 1 before being admitted for a suspected stroke on April 4 i.e. it’s logical to expect more will be infected. As St Augustine’s and Kingsway hospitals belong to Netcare, it’s possible that there’s cross-pollination too. It’s unknown if the patient referred to here is the same as the one who was at St. Augustine’s.
A healthcare worker at a Public hospital tested positive but the Health Department wouldn’t name the hospital. Spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said: “The KZN Executive Council has adopted a stance that the names of patients, hospitals and areas affected by coronavirus, the so-called ‘hot spots’, will not be divulged. This is to prevent the unnecessary stigmatisation of patients, families, health facilities (unless there are extenuating circumstances) and communities.”
I agree with not identifying patients but to not name a hospital, to not give other patients a choice, is a gross violation of human rights. Was it Addington Hospital, where I was born and have my earliest toddler memory? It’s suspicious that private hospitals have been named but that suppression of necessary information occurs as soon as a Government-run hospital is affected.
The bad news continued April 16 with Tiger Brands’ closing its Albany Bakery in Durban – 12 employees were discovered to have CoViD-19. It’s a massive bread supplier. Who else have they unintentionally infected across the city?
On April 17, Life Chatsmed Gardens Hospital received 2 CoViD-19 patients.
On the day I finished this letter, April 20, the KZN Government stated that covid-positive people were failing to self-isolate. Consequently, future positives will be kept in quarantine facilities. Dystopia has become less abstract.
IS COVID-19 SCREENING AND TESTING A TELEVISION ADVERT?
It was applaudable when you inserted 26,000 health-assistants into the population for the purposes of screening for CoViD-19. However, screening isn’t testing so it risks devolving into a free television advert for you and the part of the ANC that supports you – an appearance of good isn’t the same as a good result.
Uncertainty thickens because many journalists have skipped their job to be Government cheerleaders instead of questioners. Maybe they’re hoping for the best whilst fearing they’ll lose their jobs. But hope is only possible when proportionate to effort, and effort allows fear to be managed. Consequently, more often than not, hope is a useless word.
After 22 days of lockdown, on April 18, only 108,021 tests had been done. Considering that there are more than 57-million South Africans, that’s an awfully small amount. The number worsens when considering that the private sector did most of them. If I extrapolate from previous figures, because I couldn’t find current figures, it’s possible that your emergency team only accomplished 30,000 which would be an average of 1,154 for every day of the lockdown since March 23, or 882 since March 15 when you declared a national state of disaster. How many hundreds of billions of rands did we lose during that period?
You’d have been aware that you’d create financial havoc and, indirectly, kill some of the poor with the lockdown. In a crisis there’s no perfect solution, and the heaviest burden is carried by leaders.
You did what I believed to be right. I, my bronchial asthma, and self-diagnosed sleep apnea, were already in quarantine. I’m normally a doer wanting to help others so there’s frustration at this being my 39th day of isolation. I’m now thinking that my self-imposed quarantine may last a year or more. Considering I’m an activist (maybe now an ex-activist), whose already had corrupt politicians destroy my life, and no longer have the means to keep up that struggle, my main concern is for my father who doesn’t follow politics and leaves all important decisions to people such as yourself.
The orders you gave were well worth it if they bought us time. Social distancing works for those with homes. The poorest of the poor, as usual, are losers. But mass testing would’ve provided mitigation for the side-effects of lockdown. Unfortunately, that never happened. An opportunity has been thrown away, and thus it’ll be hard to justify the economic storm that is thundering on us (possibly for the rest of our lives). Frankly, it’s hard to believe you.
I need to know that your administration isn’t applying a “shock doctrine”. That term describes the history of governments, worldwide, grasping unrelated opportunities whilst a paralysed Public is unable to stop them. The greatest example of that this century was the USA’s false reason for attacking Iraq, leaving a million dead and many more displaced.
During this coronavirus crisis, the USA has moved war ships off Venezuela’s coast and hampered medical relief to Iran. Hungary has moved nearer dictatorship or has possibly become one, and India’s targeting Muslims. More than 20 countries are tracking citizens via their cellphones, CoViD-19 a short-term excuse for a possibly long-term eradication of citizen rights. Privacy and good health are fundamental rights, they’re not exclusive!
In our country, the City of Cape Town and eThekweni Municipality have allegedly destroyed the shelters of the poor who were ironically commanded by you to stay home. I believe in the need for troops on the streets, will support them making selfish neighbours painfully roll home, but shooting us is intolerable. Kenya and Nigeria are being heavy-handed too. Why is there disrespect by African armies and police for the citizens they’re supposed to serve? Why are we more violent than much of the world? I’ve the horrible feeling that some would be happy if all the beggars died.
The test of Government service is how it treats its citizens, especially the downtrodden. The lack of accountability for the Marikana Massacre is reason for us to all be scared now.
Considering that ‘our’ lockdown never coincided with mass testing, did it have alternate purpose?
Is our covid asphyxiation is more an opportunity for you to get an upper-hand in you boxing match with your ‘comrades’, advance the controversial selling or unbundling of Public enterprises, and sink South Africa deeper into debt supplied by foreign institutions in love with corrupt regimes (the IMF and Eskom is our past contribution to that African example).
I’m more than a cynic. I’m an anti-corruption activist. Several of your staff know my name as I’ve repeatedly reported corruption to them, for your attention. Instead of it being dealt with according to your anti-corruption stance, the crooks have been protected. My life has been smashed by politicians and immoral government employees.
I’m also a survivor of the Great Knysna Fire. It was the biggest burning disaster in South African history, yet our town was maltreated. Government cover-up was more important than our dead.
Our country was already in trouble before the virus because the relationship between Government and the Public has been one of tremendous betrayal. I’ve never known a political party to care about us more than the party’s or a politician’s interests. It’s a historical record of sneezes that gave riches and power to the few whilst making us sick. Facts are facts you can’t invalidate but, in this instance, you can be Our President.
I may point at our sordid past but need you to note that I want my current worries dissolved. I want you to victorious. I want my fellow citizens and my Dad to be safe. It helps that you’ve got personal reasons to be motivated. You know that you and your family could get ill too. Will the CoViD-19 death of Abba Kyari, the Nigerian president’s chief of staff, ram home the point to your staff that anyone can die, even in a country like Nigeria that, like us, has registered so few infections.
A FATTY VIRUS
The economy is our bigger concern but let me stick to the virus for which there aren’t enough facts for reliable prediction.
Our greatest saviour may be our wonderfully moderate weather. The virus is covered in a fatty layer that holds it together – what shape is butter when added to a frying pan? Less dramatically, it will continue to spread but maybe not as severely as it has in places under 10c. But it’ll grow in countries where infection has been made easier by proximity and a lack of testing.
Open borders are problematic because countries such as Brazil, Turkey and the USA failed to act appropriately. Bolsonaro, Erdogan and Trump’s denial of the power of the coronavirus adds risk to us.
SARS-2-CoV could mysteriously die by itself but it’s more likely that it’s here to stay. As there’s been a globally haphazard approach to it, and there’s no vaccine, it will be erratic for several years, until it finds a seasonal pattern like flu. Considering that the other 6 coronaviruses have no cure, there’s no guarantee that there will be one now. Alternatively, a vaccine is safely released in 12-18 months, proving that SAR-1 and MERS weren’t treated seriously because they weren’t killing people in television-obsessed countries that could be made overly fearful.
Your coronavirus advisory committee predicts 78,000 infections and 14,676 ICU patients by July. Scary but manageable. But only if the prediction is true. There don’t seem to be enough facts at hand to be accurate. It could be less or more. It would help if your doctors and scientists explained their methodology because knowledge is a calmative, a foundation for stronger plans.
FOR CREDIBILITY, DO THIS…
There’s much needing doing but answering these questions and undertaking these actions would be valuable steps towards credibility.
- Protect healthcare workers. Show them that they’re our best asset. It’s no use calling people our heroes unless we treat them like it. Same goes for all those providing essential services, from cleaners to grocers.
- Test all nursing homes, old aged homes etc. Let’s learn that horrid lesson that Italy and the USA suffered for us.
- Ensure that coronavirus deaths are not covered up the way AIDS deaths were. Detail how many respiratory disease and heart-attack patients died the past two months, and how many you’ve tested for CoViD-19.
- Understanding the situation is crucial to managing it. Assure that you will test relevant corpses in the future.
- Be explicitly honesty for the situations at St Augustine’s Hospital and Kingsway Hospital – what was done, what should’ve been done, why it wasn’t, and what is being done. This should apply to all future outbreaks too.
- Name the unnamed government-run hospital where a healthcare worker has been infected. Provide a situational update that includes how many tests done and other control measures that have been put in place. If you’re doing your job, you’ll reassure healthcare workers across our country.
- Provide coronavirus statistics for eThekwini Municipality – how many tests available, undertaken and the results. It’s unacceptable that the last news on their websites front page was March 20, and that deeper in the site there’s only an April 8 press release about metro officers chasing a suspect into an area that ignored the lockdown.
- I expect businesses reopening will be a staggering rollout. Bars and cinemas must be last, events postponed until summer.
- How many coronavirus test-kits do you possess now, how is it distributed between provinces? What is the lowest possible amount of testing that will be done in the short-term?
- Do we have enough supporting equipment for the test-kits – chemicals, swabs etc.?
- What is your position on serological testing which determines if someone’s already had the disease and can return to work? What are the odds of false positives, and how do we deal with them? How do we measure how many antibodies our system needs so that we’re not infectious?
- What model test-kits are being used? There’s variety on offer, with varying effectiveness. What are we paying for them – are we’re avoiding price gouging?
- What are we doing to produce our own kits, even if that means licencing from an overseas copyright holder?
- How many contact tracers do you have in each province?
- How will social distancing work in different environments e.g. kids in a classroom, or staff in an open office, is like being in a box. Can social distancing protect them in a restricted environment? Are affected exhalations avoidable when there is repeated opportunity to infect the air or objects wherein or whereon the virus can live for minutes or days?
- Can a person be re-infected?
- China’s slowdown created a global drug shortage which will affect people with other illnesses. Have you audited our national stocks? As a member of BRICS, will we receive preferential service from China.
- For our health, are you going to address China regards their wet markets and illegal trade of wild animals which has led to several zoonotic virus outbreaks? Does doing the right thing matter more than the loans we get from them?
I never addressed ventilators and associated drugs cause I’m on shaky ground. I know we need them but that’s tempered by New York State having 80% of ventilated patients die. Obviously a 1 in 5 chance is better than none but where do your experts stand on this? I assume that would change the numbers ordered. [update: April 23, overseas doctors rethinking ventilators].
As an asthmatic who struggles immensely when I’ve a cold or the flu, I’m acutely aware that our flu season begins next month. It kills so many yet has been treated as normal. Flu needs social rules too. And anyone flu-ridden is likely to be so compromised so that CoViD-19 will have a better chance at killing them. What research do your experts have regarding this doubling up? As the Northern Hemisphere was in their flu period during this crisis, there must be documentation.
ENDING THE LOCKDOWN
Do you end the lockdown on April 30? It’s one of the toughest decisions presidents around the world are having to make. Unfortunately, it’s far harder for you than for a leader of a Nordic country.
We’re not that liberal, politically correct term, a “developing nation.” We’re Third World because we’ve been politically vandalised for decades. We’ve no savings, our Federal Reserve Bank hasn’t been externally audited, many of our cops are crooks, and our health system doesn’t pass inspection. Our fellow citizens will riot if hungry. Some will do so just for cigarettes and alcohol. Ours, as said, is a violent country. But we have a right to be frustrated when we don’t fully understand the role our Government is playing, the same Government that robbed us to this point of weakness where we are.
The eventuality, whether at month end or soon after, is that short-term safety from CoViD-19 will be forfeited for economics that will possibly cause less dead from other causes and be of less threat to your rule.
If you choose not to be honest in a manner that makes us understand, you may as well open our doors now so that the battle between the coronavirus and our civil liberties can begin.
But I’d feel much better with an extension of the lockdown with the caveat that you have a plan to distribute cash and food, and put more security on the ground. We need more time so that you can do the job you should have done, and better prepare to reopen our country.
These are the minimum requirements and considerations for reopening:
- Enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, security forces and trackers.
- Widespread testing underway, preferably with the quickest, most reliable test-kits.
- When self-administering test kits become available, we must have our order in ahead of international queues.
- A medical team capable of dealing with hotspots, and a communication team that’s detailed and honest.
- A division of detectives, sheriffs and citizen contact tracers dedicated to tracing those the infected have met.
- Incorporate private security companies, which outnumber Government forces, into a cohesive plan, with rules for engagement and an obedient eye on the Constitution.
- Mass availability of masks for shop and office staff.
- Guidelines for dealing with staff who have a cough, or even the sniffles, and clear directions how they can be tested.
- Entertainment and video feeds for old-age homes because our elders must remain quarantined. Let’s ensure that their sunset days have caring sunshine.
If our lives return to how they used to be, instead of a new normal, then we’ve failed.
MY FATHER & YOU, MR PRESIDENT
My father lives in between 3 hotspots – the Bluff, Berea and Chatsworth are only 5-7km away for a pigeon. A supermarket he sometimes shops at is one block from St Augustine’s Hospital. A family he helps is nearby too. I think that shuttered Albany Bakery is in the valley below his house.
My father avoids politics and doesn’t remotely understand me being an activist. And my politically besieged situation doesn’t allow me to help him.
In two decades, no politician has knocked on his door even though he’s in a main road. He’s old school, and old with comorbidities. No matter how many times he gets screwed, he places his trust in authority figures such as doctors, investment brokers and you.
Make Durban, South Africa and me trust you too. Ensure us that this coronavirus and its disease will be fought with vigorous transparency and action. Be an excellent communicator. We don’t want you to only fight SARS-2-CoV – we need you to go to war.
The coronavirus is an opportunity. The extraordinary effort we make for it proves that effort could’ve been made for other issues. Instead, our past is phlegmy with politicians making promises that will die. But now we know that you can do more.
You can strengthen our border, clean the ‘justice’ system, create jobs for unneeded Eskom employees, self-manufacture, grow our own food, establish food banks and make teachers, engineers, healthcare workers and scientists our new heroes. Every child that isn’t left behind is a possible hero.
There’s much that can be done but none is possible if you don’t become the Anti-Corruption President. You have to throw your ‘comrades’ and across-the-aisle dirty allies into jail instead of making deals with them. Make the ANC for South Africa, not for the ANC or the foreign forces that seek to control us. Become South Africa’s leader.
In advance, thank you.