Covid-19 carnage in Gauteng as people die in car parks from lack of treatment
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By Shaun Smillie, Sameer Naik, Norman Cloete, Karishma Dipa and Zelda Venter
Johannesburg - Health experts can’t agree on when Gauteng will hit the peak of the third wave, but it appears lockdown level four is likely to be extended, as infections rise nationally.
Across the province healthcare workers are taking a beating in the latest offensive launched by a virus that keeps mutating and bringing death. A matron from a Gauteng hospital this week spoke of how the current situation was different from the past two waves. How mobile cold rooms now come to the back of the hospital to collect the dead because the mortuaries are full. And how the dead aren’t just counted in the wards, but also in the hospital car park.
“When I do my rounds in the mornings, it’s no longer weird and unusual to hear how many people have died during the night or the past 24 hours. I’m not only referring to deaths inside our hospital, but also people who died in private cars outside the emergency unit,” said the matron, who wished to remain anonymous, as she is not allowed to speak to the media.
“Family members stop their cars outside the unit and hysterically call for help, saying their loved ones need help or are ‘breathing funny’. Emergency staff frantically ran to these cars to try and help. They rush these dying people inside to the resuscitation area, where they try to save their lives – and fail.”
Gauteng is seeing record highs of infection and the vaccination drive, believe health professionals, isn’t enough as yet to halt the third wave.
“We are not doing well. Vaccines became available towards the end of 2020. Six months later, we still have not vaccinated enough people. We should’ve done better by now,” said GP, and Gauteng GP Collaboration member Dr Daniel Israel, who currently is diagnosing between 15 and 20 new Covid patients a day.
The slow vaccination rate, believes Wits professor, Professor Francois Venter of Ezintsha in the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, is likely to make the country vulnerable to a fourth wave of a Covid-19 surge in the future. He also believes the rising rate of infections in Gauteng would make the province resemble India in a week’s time. India weeks ago saw a near collapse of its health care system, as large numbers of its citizens infected with the Delta variant of Covid-19 battled to find hospital beds and oxygen.
Other academics, however, felt Gauteng has enough resources to prevent it from going the way of India.
Centre for Aids Programme of Research in SA director, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, believes the number of infections in Gauteng will start reducing in the next week or two, but he warned the other provinces will begin to see rapid increases.
“In South Africa, the third wave, without question, is going to be worse than the first and second waves and it's been driven at this point principally by the Delta variant,” he said.
He believes the restrictions imposed by the country returning to level four of the lockdown will slow the spread of the virus as it largely limits gatherings and that the severity of the latest surge of infections might shock some into adhering to the rules.
“As the cases are going up, people will get to know a family member, neighbour or colleague who has got infected and died and this will scare them to comply with the regulations.”
Vaccinologist and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi, said there was early evidence the third wave had peaked in Gauteng, and that figures from next week might confirm this.
"Unfortunately, due to severe disease and death lagging behind by two weeks compared with the infection rates in the community, we will likely continue seeing an increase in hospitalisation and death from Covid over the next two weeks, before that too starts decreasing."
The number of hospitalisation cases and deaths in Gauteng would likely be increasing, he said when the latest lockdown is scheduled to end on July 11. This, Madhi said, made it likely the lockdown would be extended, although it did depend on the criteria the government used to make that decision.
And while the government pushes to increase the number of vaccinations across the country, yesterday it was revealed the drive in Gauteng had hit a snag.
One out of ten teachers in the province, according to the department of education, have refused to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Gauteng Department of Education said they were “gravely alarmed” that 9113 teachers and support staff had turned down the Covid-19 vaccines.
“It needs to be noted the reluctance to vaccinate is a threat to the government’s efforts to normalise schooling during this disruptive pandemic and effectively threatens the academic year in its entirety”.
But yet again just how successful Gauteng will be in fighting off this latest wave will come down to how well its citizens stay away from mass gatherings and remember to wear their masks.