South Africa is struggling to contain a second wave of Covid-19 infections, fueled by a new virulent local variant of the virus, “Covid fatigue” and a series of “super-spread” events.
On Thursday, health officials announced 844 deaths and 21,832 new cases in a 24-hour period, the worst number to date. Experts believe that the second wave has not yet reached its peak in the country of 60 million, and they fear that health services in the country’s main economic and cultural center will struggle to cope with the influx of patients.
Unlike the richer countries, South Africa cannot afford to repeat the harsh blockade imposed last year, which caused massive economic and social damage. Some predict a third wave when winter arrives in the southern hemisphere in May and June, and there are fears that current vaccines may be less effective against the new variant.
“We are going to have a third wave, even a fourth. This pandemic has just started, ”said Tivani Mashamba, professor of diagnostic research at the University of Pretoria.
There is also growing criticism of the authorities’ apparent inability to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines. Last week, health officials announced that about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available to health workers by the end of next month.
It is unclear how promises to hit two-thirds of the population during the year can be kept, although South Africa will get enough vaccines for 10% of its 60 million citizens through the global Covax initiative, designed to ensure a supply fair share of cheap vaccines to the poorest countries.
The official death toll from Covid-19 in South Africa is now 31,368, but reliable excess mortality figures They suggest that more than 71,000 have died since May. The country is the most affected in Africa.
On a 4,000-kilometer journey from the province of KwaZulu-Natal to the western city of Cape Town, now the center of the second wave, the signs of the pandemic were clear. Shops and restaurants were closed on all the main streets of each city, and the infrastructure suffered a serious lack of repair and maintenance. Unemployment has skyrocketed as key industries like mining and hospitality have suffered.
“We had almost nothing. Now we have nothing at all, ”said Nicolas Mvoko, a former vineyard worker who recently lost his job in Hex Valley in the Western Cape. Wine and beer makers have faced repeated bans aimed at avoiding gatherings where social distancing has been ignored and to ease pressure on the healthcare system.
The poor, rural province of Limpopo appeared to have escaped the worst of the first wave, but has been hit hard by the second.
“It really is really bad here. Everyone knows someone who passed away. The health system is very weak, ”said Mashamba. “Covid fatigue was a major factor. You can’t believe how many weddings were taking place. They invited me to baby showers. I thought: this is horrible, you are exposing pregnant women. “
Efforts to control the flow of people across borders are also undermined by corruption and inefficiency. Huge crowds gathered at the crossing point with Zimbabwe last week as migrant workers rushed back to their jobs in South Africa after Christmas. Although all were supposed to have official negative Covid tests, a reported 2,500 rand (£ 120) bribe to border guards secured passage with no questions asked.
“I went with a group of about 20 and we all paid the Zimbabwean soldiers, then the South African soldiers and we walked around the border post through the bush and crossed the border, then we all went where we were going in South Africa.” said Joy Mvulane, a domestic worker who traveled last week from the southern Zimbabwe city of Bulawayo to Johannesburg.
Alex van den Heever, a professor of social security systems administration at Wits University in Johannesburg, said South African lawmakers, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, had limited options.
“The problem in South Africa is a [hard lockdown] it has a massive social and economic impact. South Africa is not in a position to support those who lose their income and some parts of the country can actually be unlocked due to the social context, ”he said. “The government is limited in what it can do … We have to weather the storm, target what we can.”
However, as the crisis continues, anger grows against the ruling African National Congress party, in power since 1994. Public trust has been damaged by a series of corruption allegations, particularly around massive contracts. of protective equipment in the early stages of the pandemic.
Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter said that wasteful spending during a pandemic had made her “blood boil.”
“What bothers me even more is the amount of money that is lost due to corruption, it is billions of rand. I will never vote for the ANC again, never… I am sure that wherever my grandfather and our freedom fighters are, they are not happy ”, Ndileka Mandela, said to Mail and tutor.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism