Doctors call for another hard lockdown as new Covid-19 variant spreads
Durban - THE new strain of the Covid-19 virus, termed 501.V2 Variant, is spreading rapidly with younger people also testing positive.
General practitioners in Durban that the POST spoke to said they were inundated with patients who had symptoms of the virus.
Some of those who have tested positive in recent days had also tested positive earlier this year.
Doctor Lazarus Jakes, of Chatsworth, said: “The second wave is undoubtedly worse. I have patients who tested positive in March and recovered that are testing positive again. It's the same symptoms, but the virus is transferred faster. Before the kids were safe, but now, more children are testing positive. My youngest patient was a six-month-old, whose parents had also tested positive.
"I am getting positive results every day at my practice. My friends and colleagues at hospitals and private facilities have told me that they are overwhelmed. If there are five beds and 20 patients, how do you choose who gets a bed and who does not?”
Jakes said while some patients had respiratory symptoms, others had body aches or were asymptomatic.
“It's difficult to say exactly what the symptoms are because everyone has different symptoms. It's best to heed the advice from Dr Zweli Mkhize, the minister of health, and stay at home. I believe another hard lockdown is needed to stop the spread.”
Doctor MR Noorbhai, who has a practice in Chatsworth, said 70% of his daily appointments were Covid related.
“From that 70%, about 30% of them test positive. From the remaining 40%, some of the test results are initially false negatives, but a few days later, the same patients experience Covid symptoms.”
He said some patients were not tested for the virus because they could not afford the R800 it costs to conduct the test. They are choosing to medicate at home and self-isolate. Noorbhai said this could mean that the number of covid patients is actually higher.
He said he was now seeing a greater number of teenagers, especially those between 15 and 19, testing positive.
Doctor Aadil Khan, in Overport, said he had 65 new positive cases over the past two weeks.
“About 90% of patients are presenting flu-like symptoms and request a referral for Covid-19 testing. On average, I consult with about 25 patients a day, 20 of whom present flu-like symptoms. From the 20, about 15 patients test positive."
Khan said he had come across patients who had tested positive during lockdown level 5 and had now tested positive again. He said the elderly and those with comorbidities were taking longer to recover.
Doctor Sunil Rupnarain, of Phoenix, said: "The infection rate is out of control. Our local hospitals are overloaded, and because of this, patients who are critically ill cannot get beds. At my practice, I consult with about 20 patients a day who experience flu-like symptoms."
He said around 60% of these patients tested positive for the virus.
"Younger people are at a higher risk. They are more brazen about going out and are not cautious. They believe that due to their age, they will recover. However, the second strain is making people of all ages ill. Even after the 14-day recovery period, people are still having difficulty breathing."
Doctor Rakesh Goordeen, who also practices in Phoenix, said: “The respiratory symptoms are manifesting earlier and are more severe. The demand for testing has significantly increased, and both the waiting times for testing and results have increased.
"Patients queue as early as 6am at testing centres. Home-based care is the new norm as hospitals, in both the private and public sectors, triage patients who require management.”
"Phoenix has been identified as a hotspot, and the community needs to take cognisance of this. The virus cannot be fought by doctors alone."
Doctor Kirona Hansraj, a GP at the Parlock Health Care Centre, which is a Covid-19 testing centre, said about 70 to 80 patients were testing positive every day.
"There is a definite hike compared to the beginning of lockdown. People who test at the correct time and treated accordingly are responding well. However, the symptoms are relatively worse this time. More people are developing pneumonia."
Doctor Mark Banzat, who practices in Port Shepstone, said he noticed that patients were in denial and they opted not to test for the virus.
"A number of people have tested positive, but some patients are anxious and apprehensive to get tested. I am not sure if it is because of the stigma, or the fear of having Covid, but they choose not to test. We do advise people that it’s best to test, but sometimes they stay at home and isolate instead.”
Doctor Indiran Govender, of KwaDukuza, said: "During the first wave, patients only showed severe symptoms after three days of contracting the virus, but now, the symptoms are showing within a day. I had patients who went to bed feeling normal but woke up the next morning unable to breathe properly, or had a loss of smell. Previously, when a single person in the home contracted the virus, they were only infecting about one or two people, but now, in the second wave, we are seeing the whole family testing positive."
Govender said he consulted between three to six infected patients a day. "It is a huge risk. Even I am concerned about my health.”
A doctor in Umzinto, who declined to be named, said there were between 60 to 70 Covid-19 positive cases a day.
"It is a big shift from the start of the lockdown when I would see an average of 30 to 40 Covid-19 patients at a time. I've also noticed that if patients come in early when experiencing the first signs of the virus, they often get better faster. It is those who begin to develop shortness of breath, when their oxygen concentration is less than 80%, before coming to the doctor, that often lose their lives."
He said was for people to test as soon as they experience symptoms like fever, loss of taste or smell.
A doctor in Pietermaritzburg, who also declined to be named and who consults in private and public hospitals, said: “As soon as the lockdown was eased and people were allowed to move around, there was an increase in positive cases. As a result, we are currently inundated as hospital beds and ICUs are full. On an average day, we have about 20 to 30 patients coming with Covid-related concerns, and of those, we get about 5 to 10% positive cases."
He said while the new Covid-19 variant affected young people, they have also experienced an influx of the elderly testing positive.
"Basically, everyone is affected. However, because old people are more likely to have comorbidities, we give first priority to them. The young ones, we give them medication and tell them to come back should they not feel better after 24 hours. But we advise them to immediately quarantine."
He said the earlier a patient consulted with a healthcare professional, the earlier the symptoms could be treated.
The Discovery Health Medical Scheme have identified Port Shepstone, Mapumulo, Lower Tugela, Chatsworth, Inanda, Durban, Pinetown, Umzinto, Lions River, Umlazi, and New Hanover as hotspots in KwaZulu-Natal.
Last week Dr Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, said announced South Africa was experiencing a new variant of the coronavirus – 501.V2 Variant that was driving the second wave of infections.
It was identified by genomics scientists in the country. Mkhize said the genomics team, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), had sequenced hundreds of samples from across the country since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
He said they noticed that a particular variant had increasingly dominated the findings of the samples collected in the past two months.
"In addition, clinicians have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture, in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no comorbidities presenting with a critical illness.
"The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that the current second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant."
Mkhize said some of the concerning issues was that they did not expect the second wave to emerge as soon as it had.
"The second wave has come during the festive season. Complacency has set in and people have grown tired of adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions. However, it is important to reiterate that while this mutation is a cause for concern, there is no reason to panic."
He added that many countries experienced a second wave that was more severe than the first – even where no mutations were reported.
Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal said: “This is a stark reminder that Covid-19 is not on holiday. It is, in fact, back with a vengeance. Traditionally, by now, we would be in a full celebratory mood, ready to bond with our families. But this year’s festive season feels different from what we have previously been accustomed to.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, and the important new habits we have formed must shape our behaviour over the festive season. Celebrating life and protecting the lives of those around us will be a major gift that we can give each other this festive season."