Cold weather and ‘zero understanding’ of virus behaviour fuelling Covid-19 spread

Prof Daynia Ballot, head of the Wits School of Clinical Medicine, started an online petition calling for the reopening of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg before the current third wave.
Picture: Cebisile Mbonani

Covid-19 fatigue, pure ignorance and zero understanding of virus behaviour are fuelling the rapid spread of the virus in Gauteng, says South African Medical Association chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee.

This coupled with cold weather and associated human behaviour, says health and social security expert Professor Alex van den Heever, was why experts repeatedly said the vaccination programme needed to begin in earnest before May.

“About a week ago the department of health was indicating that they thought this wave would be mild — which was quickly rebuked by experts. The national and Gauteng health departments appear to be perennially reactive. They wait for a crisis before they act and contingency planning appears non-existent,” Van den Heever said.

He said Gauteng was rescued from a severe effect in December by the timing and nature of restrictions.

“However, that was summer. The cold weather makes it much more difficult to contain transmission arising from unmanaged super-spreading events. For what its worth at this moment, we also don’t have an effective test and trace system, one and a half years into the pandemic.”

Coetzee believes there is no point in examining how government could have better handled the third wave crisis in Gauteng, after being warned of the looming crisis by experts.

“It’s too late now to do anything. When we spoke out, they should have listened,” she said.

Like others, she believes while the prolonged closure of Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital did not add to the rate of infection, it put heavy strain on surrounding public hospitals and reduced the number of available ICU beds.

Prof Daynia Ballot, head of the Wits School of Clinical Medicine, started an online petition calling for the reopening of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg before the current third wave.

“The hospital closure is not a reason for the crisis but you cannot take 1,068 hospital beds, 28 theatres and more than 100 ICU beds out of circulation without an extremely negative effect,” she said.

Added to this are the failure to open up more Covid-19 beds, fill Covid-19 posts in the health sector, water outages at government hospitals and delays in vaccinations, “all which could have been better managed”.

She added the illusive herd immunity as another challenge to curbing the spread.

Wits University infectious diseases specialist Prof Francois Venter said it was shocking that Gauteng was so unprepared for the third wave.

“The system is buckling, and the numbers of deaths have only just exceeded the first and second wave, suggesting no additional capacity has been added. New infections are still rapidly rising — it is going to be a very bleak July in Gauteng. Far worse than the previous two waves.”

By Gill Gifford – TimesLIVE

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