Lifting of restrictions makes vigilance personal
Going for a haircut or seeing a beautician, playing non-contact sport, visiting a restaurant, cinema, casino or theatre, work conference, or hospitality accommodation may now be allowed under strict conditions, but that doesn’t mean we should be doing them.
“The announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 17 June that even further lockdown restrictions would be lifted contrasted starkly with the simultaneous stern warning from Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize that ‘South Africa is approaching a heavy storm in the fight against COVID-19’,” says Professor Barry Schoub, the former executive director and founder of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and professor emeritus of virology at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“Unfortunately, South Africa is now at the very worst phase of the epidemic. The peak hasn’t yet been reached, new cases are rapidly increasing in hospitals, and healthcare facilities are fast being stretched to capacity. The winter season may well aggravate the threat even further,” he says.
“The lifting of many legislated restrictions leaves the population and the community now largely reliant on behavioural demands to prevent infection. Unfortunately, changing people’s behaviour is notoriously difficult, compounded by the invisibility of the threat to health.
“The South African Jewish public has, up to now, been spared the horror of this formidable disease – loved ones carted off to hospitals, isolated, and perhaps even suffering a lonely stay in intensive care and even worse, a lonely death. New York and London experienced it. More than ever, what we do now could, to a large extent, forestall this.
“We simply have to devote ourselves to the precautions of avoiding social gatherings of any sort, practising social distancing, wearing masks conscientiously in public places, and washing hands thoroughly when coming from outside the home. Now is the hour for those simple practices and social responsibility.”
Professor Heather Zar, the chairperson of the department of paediatrics and child health at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, who specialises in the care of children with respiratory diseases, says, “Everyone needs to consider the risk-benefit of what they do. Every time you go to a shop, visit a hotel, go to a casino, and so on, you are placing yourself and others at increased risk for getting the virus.
“Those who are at high risk should not be doing these activities. For example, elderly people should not be going to the shops, hairdresser, theatre, and so on. It’s safest to remain in your own home. Also, if you live with someone who is at high risk, then you should not do these activities.
“People should definitely keep away from crowded places. If you must go to the shops, then do so while protecting yourself as best as possible. Group gatherings, including religious gatherings, should be avoided. There have been several reports of a lot of transmission and disease occurring in these settings.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is working to heighten awareness about ignoring restrictions as the pandemic nears its peak.
“The president’s speech on 17 June signified a new phase of government’s response to the pandemic. He has acknowledged the economic suffering of our citizens, and has removed the draconian measures previously employed to protect us against COVID-19. In so doing, he has shifted the responsibility of protecting ourselves against this deadly virus to individuals, families, and communities,” says SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn.
“It’s painfully ironic that at a time of escalating infections, restrictions have been eased and even removed. Thus far, our community has, to a large extent, been spared the horrifying death tolls experienced by our fellow Jewish communities in countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and in New York. However, to avoid an increase in numbers and to ensure the safety of our community, it’s up to us to be vigilant,” she says.
“We need to take responsibility and ensure that we practise physical distancing, wear masks, and stay home as much as possible. Now is the time to implement these essential safety measures. Let’s not have regrets, like so many Jewish communities in Europe and the United States. Let’s not have losses that will haunt us forever.
“As the SAJBD is concerned that our community is suffering from COVID-19 fatigue, and in light of the fact that the economy is returning to normal, the SAJBD has embarked on a campaign for us to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. The campaign will go under the hashtag #InOurHands, and we call on our community to join us in spreading this important message at this time of the pandemic.”
Her comments come as South Africa reached more than 100 000 cases of coronavirus infection, accumulating more than 4 000 cases each day.
Hatzolah Chairperson Lance Abramson urged the community to stay home whenever possible. “Hatzolah is witnessing an ongoing escalation in infections in the community based on the COVID-19-positive patients we are monitoring at home and those we have transported to hospital,” he says. “The number of patients being monitored at home increased from 45 last week Thursday, to 70 yesterday [Sunday, 21 June], and 80 today. With the surge of COVID-19 cases in our community, now more than ever we need to stay safe at home wherever possible.”
The director of the Community Security Organisation (CSO) in Cape Town, Loren Raize, says the organisation is using Hatzolah’s programme to monitor COVID-19-positive Cape Town Jewish community members.
“June shows the largest number of reported cases within the Cape community, currently at 69 [including cases at Jewish facilities and care homes], and that’s only the cases reported to us. Of these, more than half were placed on the CSO Wellness Program, with the majority being on-boarded in the past two weeks,” she says.
“The relaxation in restrictions is having an effect on our community. We can see this in the case numbers. We urge those who can continue to stay at home to do so, and to act responsibly in public and in your homes by following the guidelines.”
Mike Abel, a Cape Town community member and the chief executive of M&C Saatchi Abel, has spoken out against the lockdown, and now feels that, as responsible adults “we need to take full ownership and accountability for our decisions. At the same time, we need to unemotionally understand the real threats versus the perceived ones. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to survive economically while no medical option is available.
“I won’t preach to others how they should live their lives, but I would suggest erring on the side of caution when choosing wants versus needs socially. For example, if you want to eat out, and the restaurant provides adequate social distancing, then you must make that call. We are all in this together, so that should guide our behaviour. But don’t lose sight of the overwhelming survival rate, as that may help in making the right decisions to protect your health and protect your income. It’s not an either/or situation, it’s both.”