An open letter to the community
Most people will have noticed that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa (and Gauteng) has been rising fast. Unfortunately this goes hand in hand with a rising death rate.
Dr Carron Zinman, Dr Anton Meyberg, Dr Andre Pieterse, Dr Sharon Goldburgh, Dr Zaheer Laher, Dr Ian Hunt
What’s readily apparent to the frontline physicians of the Netcare Linksfield Hospital is that the number of admissions related to COVID-19 have increased dramatically and both the Covid high care/intensive care unit as well as the Covid general ward have a much higher number of patients than a mere three weeks ago. Hatzolah has also issued a warning about the surge in the number of cases in the community in the past week.
We have no way of knowing exactly how many people there are who are actually infected with the virus in South Africa. As of 13 June, there were 65 736 reported cases in South Africa, 9 897 in Gauteng. We do know that abut 10% to 20% of patients with SARS Co2 require admission. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases COVID-19 surveillance in selected hospitals (not all hospitals in South Africa submit their data to them) reported that on 13 June, there were 2 263 admitted patients of whom 329 were in intensive care, and 135 on mechanical ventilation.
As of 13 June, 1 423 people had lost their lives to COVID-19, with just more than 50% of the deaths being in the 50 to 69 age range. Looking at it in a different way, people between 50 and 59 have a 3.7% case fatality rate, people between 60 and 69 have a 8.9% case fatality rate, and people over the age of 65 have a 14.5% case fatality rate. So although the bulk of the deaths are in the 50 to 69 age range, it reflects the fact that the highest number of admissions occur in that age range, whereas one in seven people over the age of 70 have died, and about one in 11 people between 60 and 69 have died.
An additional compounding factor is the presence of comorbidities like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and so on. A simplified way of looking at this is that if you have a two or more comorbidities, you are twice as likely to die as someone with one comorbidity, and four times as likely to die as someone with no comorbidities.
This coronavirus is nothing like the coronaviruses we are used to dealing with. It has made its own rules, and has defined a new spectrum of disease which is multisystem and which has to be managed in a way contrary to all previous principles. It is a novel virus, which means that no one was immune and as such, it could run unchecked through the population.
This virus doesn’t discriminate. It affects men and women of all ages and across all population groups. There are definitely people with asymptomatic infections who inadvertently infect the people around them. It’s likely that individuals may be highly contagious 48 hours before they display symptoms. There is as yet uncertainty as to whether you can become re-infected. There is no cure, and no specific treatment for this virus.
The lockdown gave us time to learn to respect this virus, to learn what medical interventions are likely to be successful and which inadvertently caused harm, and it allowed the country’s healthcare system to prepare as best it could. We’ve watched and adhered to fluid and dynamic changes in protocol so as to protect the healthcare of workers, hospital support staff, and patients.
Gauteng is just starting to see a steepening rise of its curve, and estimates of when the peak will be reached vary from the end of July until September 2020. Ironically as the numbers rise and healthcare workers become more anxious, people seem to be behaving recklessly. Instead of being even more vigilant about wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing/sanitising their hands, they are showing an alarming tendency to make their own rules. People are frustrated by the restrictions imposed by the rules of lockdown and instead of behaving correctly, they are having their hair and/or nails done, dinner parties and play dates, and are getting together with their families, among other things.
The healthcare system is already stretched, and it’s only going to get worse. There is no doubt that irresponsible behaviour will result in even more infections in our community than there are now. We sincerely believe the Covid wards will fill up further, and we will have to take over some of the non Covid wards. A time is coming where beds will not be as readily available, personal protective equipment will be more difficult to acquire, and healthcare workers will be burnt out. It’s an exhausting way to practice medicine for nurses, doctors, and allied health workers who have all uncomplainingly just waded in.
We, the Linksfield Hospital team, are doing our best to protect ourselves and the people around us. It’s imperative that the more vulnerable members of our community are protected to the best of our ability. It’s thus unbelievably frustrating and annoying to see the imprudent behaviour of members of the community who are ignoring the gravity of the situation and are conferring an unnecessary risk of becoming infected or infecting the people around them.
COVID-19 can be very serious, and we desperately need to curb the spread of the SARS Co2. It can be done only by people respecting the guidelines (rules). We implore you to please behave responsibly by wearing a mask over your nose and mouth at all times when out in public (even when exercising), by maintaining proper social distance, by not going out unless it’s really necessary, by not allowing play dates, by not having dinner parties, by not taking off your mask during tea breaks and meetings, by sanitising commonly used surfaces, and so on.
There is only one way to halt the spread of the SARS Corona Virus 2, and that’s to stop providing it with a substrate to live and replicate in. Now is the time that you need to be most vigilant and careful to stop the transmission of this virus. While it’s true that most people will survive COVID-19, not everyone does.
Joburg – city of architects and dreamers
In spite of its reputation for being the “engine room” of the country, Johannesburg has many elegant, experimental buildings designed by Jewish architects.
Johannesburg Heritage Foundation’s Flo Bird and Brian McKechnie recently took viewers on a virtual tour of many of these buildings, downtown and uptown. Some of them have fallen into disrepair, but they are still a testament to innovation, and continue to contribute to the lives of those who live and work in them.
The tour, unusually, linked the buildings to their creators’ graves at Westpark Cemetery, with epitaphs contributing to our understanding of who they were.
“This tour was inspired by encountering the graves of architects whose work I loved,” Bird said, pointing out that a virtual tour allows us to traverse the large Westpark Jewish Cemetery with ease.
It started with Morrie (MJ) Jacob, who died in 1950. Jacob designed the Doornfontein Synagogue (1905) otherwise known as the Lions Shul, named for the bronze lions on either side of the stairs. In its day, Doornfontein was a desirable address for Jews. Though today the shul is squashed up against Joe Slovo Drive with an ugly fence, it’s still loved for its beauty and unusual touches like minarets, stone columns, and basilica-like space.
Another one of Jacob’s buildings, Cohn’s Pharmacy in Pageview (1906), is an example of the city’s obsession with corner buildings, which tended to be far more elegant and accentuated than those in the middle of the block. Jacob’s Jewish Guild War Memorial building in the old city centre (1922/23) is a pile of an Edwardian building which also celebrates its corner status.
Israel Wayburne (1983) is known, among other things, for employing famous activist and communist Rusty Bernstein. He’s responsible for a number of the maisonette flats (two down, two up) in Yeoville.
“Each building contributes to an interesting and varied landscape [compared, say, to monotonous Fourways],” said Bird.
One of his most well-known buildings is, in fact, the ohel at Westpark, which has a religious and aesthetic function (in spite of an unsightly drainpipe addition at the front). “Luckily Issie doesn’t have to see it as his grave is on the other side of the building,” Bird commented.
Louis Theodore Obel (1956), who was in partnership with his brother, Mark, was a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) – as were many of the architects mentioned. Obel and Obel made a great contribution to art deco architecture, including the Barbican Building (1930), which was the tallest building in Johannesburg at the time, Astor Mansions, one of Joburg’s first skyscrapers, and Beacon Royale flats (1934), at the bottom of Yeoville on Louis Botha Avenue.
Maurice Cowen (1990) contributed to the decorative facades of many of Joburg’s best-known schools, including Parktown Girls and Jeppe Boys, and the panels gracing 1930s-era Dunvegan Chambers, Roehampton Court, Shakespeare House, and Broadcast House in the Johannesburg CBD. The latter was the original home of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The crazy antennae designed for the top of this building didn’t have any real function, McKechnie said, though it copied the antennae on top of the BBC, and there was briefly the idea of using it to dock airships.
Another Wits graduate, Leopold Grinker (1973), was an anti-establishment figure who disliked modernism. Grinker’s Normandie Court (1937) in Delvers Street, Newtown, combines art deco with his obsession with the streamlined form of ships. So too does Daventry Court in Killarney (also built in the 1930s), which was Killarney’s first modern block of flats.
Harold Leroith (also a Wits’ alma mater) is best known for designing Temple Emanuel in Parktown (1954). This minimalist, modern building has concrete recesses which make it sculptural and provide shade for its windows. It also shows concern for materials like stone and face brick.
Leroith also designed Redoma Court, which architects consider one of Johannesburg’s best buildings, and the iconic, shiplike San Remo (1937) Both are sadly in a dilapidated state in Yeoville.
Monty Sack, an architect and artist and another Wits graduate, (2009), incorporated the work of artists in Killarney Hills built on top of Killarney Ridge, built to house actors for the studio of American financier Isidore Schlesinger.
Sidney Abramowitch (2016) passionately lobbied to save Joburg’s historical buildings such as the Markham Building, and is known for designing Innes Chambers in 1963, now used by the National Prosecuting Authority. This unusual building with Y-shaped columns representing the scales of justice, was covered with mosaics, which recently had to be painstakingly restored.
Lastly, the tour touched on the work of Gerald Gordon (2016), also a Wits graduate, who the group described as “an outstanding brain who was unable to limit himself to any single factor”. Gordon, who incubated many of South Africa’s best-known architects in his many years of lecturing at Wits, is best known for designing mountain houses on Linksfield Ridge, such as 7 New Mountain Road (early 70s), which literally cling to the edges of cliffs.
He’s also known for developing a new construction method he named “thin-skin architecture” which uses no bricks and is extremely strong because of its monocoque construction (a type of construction used in cars and aeroplanes).
Like many others, the brilliance and bravery of these Jewish architects leaves a legacy that can’t be eradicated.
Nominations open for a historic Jewish Achiever Awards
The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2020 is now open for nominations.
Just when you thought nothing familiar and fabulous was going to happen, the SA Jewish Report is calling you onboard to begin its journey to this year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.
COVID-19 may have brought live entertainment and events to a grinding halt, but this year’s awards will be held in a format that will make history and give ample recognition to those who have achieved great things.
This is the 22nd year of this unique awards ceremony in which Jewish individuals are acknowledged for the powerful, influential, and life-changing roles they play in South Africa. The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards acknowledges those who deserve recognition for their contributions to society, paying tribute to the men and women who have enhanced our community.
Scheduled to take place in mid-October, the annual extravaganza evening will go ahead in spite of a host of virus-related challenges.
“For the first time in the event’s history, we will be holding an online-offline event,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report. “While the actual event will be streamed live for people to watch without being present, guests will still be able to take part in this incredible event.”
Sackstein explains that while tables can be purchased as usual, the seating is virtual, as guests will experience a gourmet dining experience in the comfort of their own homes while watching the live event.
“Those who buy tables will have their meal delivered to their home, from cocktails to dessert,” says Sackstein. “We will also feature a virtual red carpet, with guests taking photos of themselves at home and sharing them online.”
While they tuck into their meal at home, guests will enjoy a livestream of the event, enjoying the evening’s entertainment and awards.
The awards are another area where exciting changes have been made.
“While guests are eating and watching the event, award winners will be announced live and have their awards handed over to them at home by a team waiting to ring their doorbell. This means that guests will actually see the handover of the award, and feel as though they are still part of the event without actually being there.”
Some of the award categories have also been transformed. In spite of the challenges posed by our trying circumstances, members of our community remain determined to stand out and make tangible contributions, and the awards need to reflect this, Sackstein says.
“Beyond being online, the event must be experiential in that it is relevant to the times in which we are living,” he says.
“COVID-19 has ensured that the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards has changed, and certain award categories have been adjusted to reflect our reality. Business leadership in the time of COVID will replace the usual Business Leadership Award, the Professional Excellence award will become the Professional Excellence in COVID award. Other categories will be similarly adjusted.”
Changes like these are essential, Sackstein says.
“Awards which ignore our circumstances would be meaningless,” he says. “We have moved to recognise those doing remarkable work and their efforts at this very moment which are most relevant to our community.
“We are celebrating our heroes. Heroes emerge in moments like these. Ordinary people have really grasped the mantle of leadership and provided such a remarkable example that we should all emulate.”
Every member of our community is encouraged to participate in acknowledging the tremendous efforts of those who have risen to the occasion of COVID-19 and beyond.
“While a lot of people are depressed and fatalistic about our reality, others have seen the opportunities it offers and striven to make our lives so much better,” says Sackstein. “We have to recognise and celebrate them, using them as an example of what we can do in these difficult times.”
Neighbour snatches family from fire
A fast-acting neighbour has been hailed as a hero for rescuing a young family whose flat was moments away from being engulfed in smoke and flames.
Last Thursday night, Jonathan Penn and his heavily pregnant wife Simone put their children and themselves to bed early due to unscheduled load-shedding, which plunged their flat on the third floor of Glen Manor in Glenhazel into darkness.
The couple ate an early dinner while it was still light enough to see, and were tucked up in bed by 18:30 with their two children, Judah, 5, and Ayden, 3, in the main bedroom with them.
Simone had lit candles to provide some soft ambient lighting, including a vanilla scented Yankee Candle on the mantle.
Sometime later, the family was shaken awake by frantic, loud banging on their front door and screams to get out.
The Penns were oblivious to the fire which had broken out in their kitchen just a few doors away.
Neighbours Marlon Nathan and his daughter, Tali, were arriving home after fetching takeaways when they saw rising flames in the kitchen of the flat next door to theirs. Had they been a few minutes earlier, they wouldn’t have seen the fire.
“As we rounded the stairs and turned left, we saw flames and thick black smoke coming from Jonathan and Simone’s kitchen. We dumped our bags and takeaways, and rushed to try get them out of there,” said Tali, 23.
Working together, the father and daughter team sprang into action and began screaming and knocking at the door to the flat. Pandemonium ensued as the family jumped out of bed and were greeted by a wall of smoke.
Simone, who writes a blog titled Mothers’ Nature, related her experience the next day. “In the glass windowpane above the front door we could see burning orange reflections. We all started to cough. We couldn’t breathe. The children were screaming. Jonny was trying to pull us away from the flames and the smoke into the lounge. He was scared the blaze was in the passage. He knew not to touch the handles. He knew not to open any doors. He thought we were trapped.
“I fumbled with the keys, one arm over my mouth. I couldn’t remember how keys worked. I couldn’t remember how the door worked.”
She told the SA Jewish Report that at that moment, she feared for their lives.
As Marlon was about to kick down the front door, it opened, and frantically, he pulled Simone, Judah, and Ayden out. The little girl, disorientated, ran back inside when she couldn’t see her father through the smoke. Marlon ran headlong into the smoke to retrieve her.
Tali, a student nurse currently working the COVID-19 wards at Milpark Hospital, said, “I’ve seen my share of trauma, but it’s entirely different when you see your father dash into a fire.”
Once the family was safe, Marlon said his focus turned to extinguishing the fire which was getting out of control.
“My priority was first to get the family out of the flat, and then to contain the spread of the fire. There are 88 flats with many elderly residents. I had no time to think about anything other than putting out that fire,” he said.
Jonathan and Marlon ran through the building collecting fire extinguishers to battle the flames.
Security guard Prince Elliot used large buckets of water to put out the last of the fire.
A distraught Judah was worried about his two birds, Tweety and Koko, whom he had left behind in all the commotion. He was calmed when a firefighter much later appeared clutching a perfectly intact bird cage containing two finches.
“That was when I broke down. Every single Penn was safe and accounted for,” said Simone.
The family believe a surge caused by the power outage caused a spark which ignited the fire. “We suspect a spark landed on a large tablecloth I had folded in the kitchen,” said Simone.
Relieved and grateful, she said, “I think Hashem sent angels in the form of Marlon and Tali, and then Prince. But of course we owe everything to Marlon. We owe him our life. He and Tali appeared at the exact right moment. I shudder to think what five minutes either way would have meant.”
Marlon, 56, who has been treated for smoke inhalation said, “I’m not a hero. I just did what anybody in that situation would’ve done.”
He was meant to be in Israel for his daughter’s wedding, but cancelled his trip the day before the fire. His daughter says she now knows why. “He was meant to be here to save lives,” she said.
“I believe the family was minutes away from dying. The smoke was so heavy and thick, they would have died in their beds. They wouldn’t have got to the front door. You could hardly see them when they came out. It was scary,” said Marlon.
A firefighter told the SA Jewish Report it could have ended very differently. “This was a potentially deadly fire. One flat can take out the building. There are many different people living there with different needs, including elderly in wheelchairs. There is a petrol station next to it and restaurants. It was potentially very dangerous.”
The Penns say their experience has taught them a lot about fire prevention. They recommend keeping a fire extinguisher, installing smoke alarms, turning off the mains when the power is cut, and installing surge plugs for appliances.
Both the Penns and the Nathans are living with family members while their homes are cleaned and repaired.
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