Choosing the end to their love story
COVID-19 has taken many community stalwarts in the past few weeks. Just two are my in-laws Barney and Esther Singer, who celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on 27 December 2020. It was the last simcha they would spend together.
They passed away five days apart – Barney on 31 December 2020 and Esther on 5 January 2021.
Barney, a chartered accountant, was a travel industry stalwart and a fierce Zionist who won numerous awards here and in Israel. Amongst his many achievements, he was life vice-chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation Cape Council, he won the prestigious Jerusalem Award, the Yakir Award, and the Colleagues of Virilist Award, awarded by the World Zionist Congress.
Born in Keetmanshoop in Namibia, he was also a staunch socialist who actively participated in the fight against apartheid and its injustices. I have on occasion met political leaders who tell stories of secret, late-night meetings, and Barney’s levelheadedness, kindness, and insistence on fairness.
We’ve all heard the “Jewish moms and their sons” jokes. And then there’s the standard mom and daughter-in-law quips. Add an Afrikaans girlfriend and a last-born son to the mix, well, needless to say, I was slightly apprehensive when I was invited to Shabbat dinner at Esther and Barney the first time.
But, whether it was the covert training by her sisters, the fact that she could see I was smitten with her son, or simply that she and I complemented each other so well, Esther made me part of the family from that moment on.
Twenty years have passed, and we’ve shared only love, warmth, generosity, and the mildly obsessive belief that if there’s music, there has to be dancing.
A few years ago, we decided to keep our parents living comfortably in their apartment in Sea Point at the sunset stage of their lives. It had been their home for the past 27 years. Esther and Barney had in-home carers who looked after them lovingly. We were extremely strict about visitors, and tried our best to keep them safe. They were both well and healthy for their ages – Barney was 97 and Esther was 92.
It’s likely that during a change of shift, the virus entered their space. When the carer started showing symptoms, we brought in new staff and monitored Esther and Barney’s health carefully. We were astounded that after a couple of days, they weren’t showing any symptoms. In fact, we used the words “dodged a bullet”.
A few days later, on 29 December, Esther’s birthday, we popped in to say hello, and noticed that Barney was lethargic, feverish, and his breathing was shallow. After a few hours, we called the Community Security Organisation (CSO), which arrived within minutes. After giving him oxygen, they suggested that he go to hospital.
An ambulance arrived shortly, it drove around to various hospitals which diverted them as they were full. They managed to secure a bed for Barney at Somerset Hospital, where they stabilised him and took good care of him. Sadly, his body wasn’t strong enough to fight the virus, and he passed away after two days. It was heartbreaking to tell Esther that her partner of 65 years had died two days after her birthday.
Barney’s funeral took place the next day. Due to the fact that Esther was COVID-positive, she was unable to attend the funeral. She sat in the car at the cemetery, masked, with her windows closed, as we buried her life partner.
It was during this time that Esther started showing mild symptoms. With expert advice from friends, her doctors, and the care of her children, we managed to keep her stable at home. We joked that we ran a very effective in-home intensive-care unit.
Perhaps the realisation of the passing of her beloved Barney and the thought of living without him increased the impact of the disease on her body, and we made a decision to call the CSO, which sent a Netcare ambulance. When it arrived, they suggested that she be admitted as the oxygen levels in her blood were dropping.
Again, there was concern about the availability of hospital beds, and again, with the help of friends and our doctors, she was admitted to Cape Town Mediclinic. She spent the first night there, and medical staff were pleased with how well she responded.
On her second evening there, we called her to say goodnight, she sounded strong and said she was waiting for her tea. When we received the dreaded call 45 minutes later, it came as a terrible shock. We were expecting her to pull through. Perhaps the thought of spending her remaining days without Barney was too much to bear. Esther was buried next to her beloved the following day.
Barney and Esther are survived by their children Leon, Jill, and Brian, and their families, including five grandchildren. Ultimately, they chose the ending to their love story. They were inseparable in life and now in death. We find peace and grace in the Igbo quote, “When death finds you, may it find you alive.”
- Lee-Anne Singer is marketing director at the Singer Group
Inject suitable caution into Purim festivities
The excitement is palpable. As more and more doctors and healthcare workers are vaccinated, there is a sense that we are slowly on our way out of this quagmire of illness, separation, and death.
So many of these frontline doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare industry have put their lives on the line to save ours. No oath or commitment is strong enough to make people do that. It’s pure determination to save lives that’s behind this – a life mission. The kavod that should go to these people is immeasurable.
And to see so many of them, who themselves may have comorbidities or vulnerable family members, rejoicing after getting their vaccine is exciting.
It means that the rest of our vaccines aren’t far behind, especially seeing as the next batch of vaccines is due to arrive in South Africa this weekend.
What we must remember is that these healthcare workers are, in fact, testing the vaccine for us. The vaccine isn’t yet registered for commercial use globally, in spite of it being rolled out in the United States, United Kingdom, and here. So, once again they are putting themselves at risk so we know how effective the vaccine is and what – if any – side effects there are.
Having said that, it’s clear that healthcare workers feel very confident in this vaccine.
You may wonder why we temporarily changed the format of our front page this week to photographs only and no stories. The simple truth is because these men and women being vaccinated is history in the making. We will look back on this time as a turning point in our pandemic crisis. Or at least, we hope we will be able to do so.
It was around this time last year that the Wuhan flu began to hit home. It began to sink in that this dreaded illness that had hit China and other parts of the world was heading this way.
For so many, Purim last year was the last Jewish festival that was celebrated in what was then the normal way. It was festive. It was bonding and celebratory. People took it for granted that they were safe when they hugged each other, danced together, shared a plate of hummus, or dipped into their finger food. Even sharing hamantaschen with friends was totally acceptable.
We took our health and safety for granted when we surrounded ourselves closely with friends and family. We also thought nothing of kissing and being unmasked – yes, even on Purim – with people we didn’t live with.
One year later, and so much has changed. Masks are the norm, and part of our protection from this dreaded coronavirus. Being separate is the rule. And, trying to find a way to celebrate Purim while still observing all the COVID-19 safety protocols is the call.
Our rabbis, Hatzolah, and doctors have put out a stern warning to us to totally downscale celebration of this fabulous chag.
In the words of doctors, they are “urging and appealing to everyone to make sure that this festival of Purim isn’t the catalyst for the beginning of another surge of coronavirus”.
While they aren’t saying we shouldn’t celebrate, they are saying that “this isn’t the time for communal meals, events, and senseless alcohol consumption”. They ask that we keep our seudot to “each person’s home/family bubble”.
They are dissuading people from sending and delivering mishloach manot to lots of friends and family as this could spread COVID-19. They suggest limiting this to a minimal number of people.
While, like us, they would love to celebrate Purim as we have always done, they have seen the ravages of this deadly virus up close, and want to guide us in doing what’s right to prevent a further surge.
The rabbis particularly ask that we limit our seudot to our nuclear family and focus on the “preservation of life” this year in the hope that next year, we can celebrate in the manner we are accustomed to.
Hatzolah gives some great tips in how to safeguard ourselves over Purim this year. This includes making sure all surfaces are sanitised and that people who don’t live together remain two metres apart at any given time. They also encourage plated food, and individually bottled drinks. They recommend having seudot outside and with as few people as possible, avoiding the elderly and people with comorbidities.
The vitally important take-home information this week is that we are on the right path but we are a long way from safety and security in terms of COVID-19.
It’s 100% up to us to keep our guard up, keep social distances, wash and sanitise our hands. You know the drill by now.
It’s too easy to let it go when the numbers are low. So easy! Nobody believes that when the numbers are low, they can get the virus. In fact, most people who have contracted the virus were shocked and never believed it would happen to them.
It’s exciting that the rollout has begun, and our healthcare workers are getting vaccinated. It’s brilliant and a sign of great things to come. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we won’t get there in the next few months.
The light is bright but it’s way down the line. We need to accept that we will still be wearing our masks through the middle of this year. We are most likely still going to have a third surge no matter how quickly we vaccinate two thirds of the population.
So, let’s lift our spirits because there is hope in sight, but let’s make a commitment to stay safe over Purim no matter how difficult that is.
Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!
Every doctor’s COVID-19 jab is one step closer to your vaccination
The myalgia I awoke to this morning isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s the common achy feeling we all experience at the onset of a touch of flu. The mild malaise I’m also feeling, after a shorter night’s sleep, is a physiological effect I try to avoid, but it’s the result of a habit that seems to creep into most of our busy lives.
Perhaps more particular, last night was the close constant attention I paid to my glucose levels as a Type 1 diabetic. Thankfully, all remained normal. Barring my mild symptoms, I’m feeling fantastic this morning, 24 hours after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
My mind drifts back to almost a year ago, when I contracted a simple rhinovirus (the common cold). In spite of experiencing similar symptoms, I would certainly not have described myself as feeling “fantastic” at the time. These same symptoms used to conjure up uneasiness that my family had to bear as part of the role in life I have chosen. That’s what happens when you live with some comorbidities and work in a busy practice that had started to screen its patients vigilantly for the new “Wuhan flu”.
I welcome the vaccine’s side effects as do my colleagues as we enrol this week as the guinea pigs of the Johnson & Johnson trial. This is the only vaccine to date that has shown significant efficacy in preventing severe COVID-19 or death as a result of the 501.V2 variant, the most common strain of COVID-19 in South Africa today.
It’s a single-dose vaccine, with 500 000 doses secured to inoculate healthcare workers over the next four weeks. This is a trial still at stage 3b, which means that it’s not yet registered anywhere in the world for commercial use, in spite of its rolling application in the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.
The vaccine is being rolled out as an emergency measure while it awaits FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval potentially at the end of this month. Should the vaccine prove to be effective amongst South Africa’s healthcare workers, it will give SAHPRA (the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) the green light for commercial rollout to our citizens.
My social media feed has been preoccupied with posts by colleagues receiving their vaccines. I, too, have added my own story to this noise. In reality, it’s far from noise. The supportive response we have all received from the public has been overwhelming.
A dear pulmonology colleague and I engaged in conversation yesterday as to whether doctors should be “flaunting their receipt of a vaccine” on social media or rather just quietly receiving the jab under the radar.
After some meaningful thought, we both agreed on the former. The palpable excitement by the public to doctors’ Facebook posts is fuelled by some valuable perspectives which I would like to share with you. These are the reasons that our community members should feel joy that our healthcare workers are finally being vaccinated this week.
The healthcare worker’s safety perspective: during surges of COVID-19 infection, patients have described the thought of not being able to see their doctors, nurses, and paramedics with ease as a terrifying dynamic. Statistics have shown that healthcare workers are three to four times more likely to develop COVID-19 than the general public. As many as 54 685 healthcare workers in the public sector alone have been infected with COVID-19 over the past year, with 779 losing their lives.
Unfortunately, every community doctor knows another doctor who has either contracted a serious COVID-19 infection or even lost their life to this plague. The vaccine offers you the promise that your doctors will be protected and able to help you when you may need them whether for COVID-19 or another reason.
The experimental perspective: the AstraZeneca vaccine taught us that in the dynamic, evolving space of COVID-19, variants affect efficacy tremendously. This phenomenon is so significant, that an already procured vaccine at one million units had to be returned. It’s still unknown whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will indeed be effective in large numbers on the ground, beyond the limited sample size of the original study in South Africa.
It’s best to run a live trial on largely healthy healthcare workers. I have my predictions that even with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, modifications will need to be made to the product in the near future. Dr Glenda Gray advised me that a two-dose regimen is also being explored. Other expert vaccinologists have reported that it’s relatively simple to modify vaccines. As a member of the public, you will hopefully have access to the next round of vaccines – the improved version two.
The snowball perspective: this is the mindset that has excited me most since the rollout of vaccines a week ago. Every country with a functional vaccine campaign started off by vaccinating its healthcare workers. They constitute less than 5% of the population. Once healthcare workers start being vaccinated, the rollout soon spreads to essential workers and the elderly and vulnerable. Thereafter, vaccines are offered to younger healthy adults.
There is nothing more my wife and I would like to see than our own parents being vaccinated. I can say the same for my elderly patients. Understanding the procurement plan in South Africa, I’m confident that once the initial snowball of vaccinated healthcare workers has been formed, it’s inevitable that it will grow quickly and our deserving, beloved, vulnerable citizens will be vaccinated soon. Every doctor you see vaccinated means you are one step closer to being vaccinated yourself.
COVID-19 has changed our lives. It continues to place tremendous strain on our community socially, emotionally, financially, and physically. It has been proven that our second-nature, non-pharmacological measures of mask wearing, sanitising, and social distancing are powerful weapons in our armament. These measures dropped COVID-19 cases from a peak of 21 980 a day on 8 January 2021 to 998 today. However, we are finally exploring options of real pharmacological immunity. I’m utterly grateful to be contributing towards the body of knowledge of this development, and I have confidence that as the lightning development of vaccines continues to play out in South Africa, we will slowly get back to normal life.
Dr Daniel Israel is a family practitioner in Johannesburg.
Tel Aviv rolls out COVID-19 vaccines for illegal foreign nationals
Although South Africa is only starting to vaccinate its healthcare workers, Israel has already vaccinated nearly half the population.
It’s not only Israel’s citizens who have been vaccinated, but also migrant workers living there from the Philippines, Moldova, and Nigeria, as well as Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers. They are receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Tel Aviv COVID-19 Vaccination Centre in the southern part of the city, home to a large migrant community.
As part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals, Tel Aviv City Hall and the Sourasky Medical Center started administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers.
This was evident on Tuesday, 9 February, the first day of the operation, as dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in Tel Aviv lined up outside the building to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Posters provided information in English, Tigrinya, Russian, and Arabic.
“I’m very happy,” Indian national Garipelly Srinivas Goud told Associated Press. Lamenting that foreign workers in Israel don’t have money or insurance to afford to pay for the vaccine, Goud, who has been working in Israel for eight years, welcomed the vaccine drive as a “very good decision”.
Although it’s the government’s responsibility to vaccinate everybody within the nation’s borders, Eytan Schwartz, spokesperson for Tel Aviv municipality, said the city would take the next step and start “to vaccinate illegal or undocumented asylum seekers as well”.
And although far from completing the vaccinating of its own population, having thus far delivered more than 4.4 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and at least three million second doses, Israel has started providing the Palestinian Authority (PA) with thousands of vaccines for its healthcare workers. This is in spite of the fact that the ultimate responsibility for health services and vaccine acquisition falls upon the PA, elected by Palestinians to govern the West Bank.
After receiving thousands of doses from Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry administered its first known coronavirus vaccinations at the beginning of February. It announced the start of the campaign by saying that Health Minister Mai al-Kaila had received a first dose along with several frontline medical workers. While acknowledging receipt of 2 000 doses on Monday, 8 February, the first batch of vaccines sent by Israel, the PA didn’t say where they came from.
Back in May 2020, COVID-19 relief aid from the United Arab Emirates was rejected by the Palestinian leadership because it arrived by freight plane to Israel’s international airport without prior co-ordination with the PA. This resulted in 14 tons of urgently needed COVID-19-relief medical supplies languishing at Ben Gurion Airport. The reason for the PA refusing to accept delivery was because it didn’t want to be seen as condoning the normalising of ties between Israel and the Arab world.
Disregarding the health of his people, Osama al-Najjar, the medical services director of the PA health ministry, explained that Ramallah couldn’t “accept shipments that are a gateway to normalisation between Arab countries and Israel”.
Asked what he thought would happen to the medical supplies, al-Najjar responded, “I don’t know where they will go, but we won’t accept them. They’re free to do with them what they please, but we will neither accept them nor welcome them.”
However, Al-Najjar did acknowledge that the PA was “in need of ventilators”.
What we are “all in need of” is better understanding and co-operation as there are no borders when it comes to the health of the planet and its vulnerable citizens. Israeli epidemiologists agree that it’s in Israel’s interest to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated as quickly as possible, as the populations are too intertwined to have one gain herd immunity without the other.
As recently departed Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told The Times of Israel in January, “The message is very simple: we are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter.”
- David E Kaplan is the editor of ‘Lay of the Land’, and executive director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. This piece was used courtesy of ‘Lay of the Land’.
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