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‘Wake up!’ doctors say, as infections rise and rebellion sets in

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NICOLA MILTZ

In an open letter to the community, a group of frustrated and concerned frontline physicians at Netcare Linksfield Hospital have warned about the dangers of “reckless”, “irresponsible” and “imprudent” behaviour by members of the community who are “ignoring the gravity of the situation”.

The move to level 3 lockdown precipitated a dangerous misinterpretation that it signalled an end to the monotonous, restrictive regulations. Together with lockdown fatigue and complacency, many members of the community saw this as an opportunity to disregard the somewhat confusing regulations about social gatherings.

Many have openly flouted regulations by hosting things like mini birthday parties, drive-by gatherings, small braais, private minyanim, Shabbos dinners with close family, and pavement coffee meet-ups. It has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of positive cases in the community, experts say.

Johannesburg general practitioner Dr Daniel Israel said in a Facebook post that the number of social interactions within the community had increased dramatically, and this had increased risk. “By exposing yourself to more people, you are exponentially increasing your own risk and the risk you may be passing on.”

In the no-holds-barred letter, doctors Carron Zinman, Anton Meyberg, Andre Pieterse, Sharon Goldburgh, Zaheer Laher, and Ian Hunt warned the community, outlining the severity of the situation.

“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,” the letter said.

“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.”

While people were frustrated by the restrictions imposed by the rules of lockdown, the doctors said that “instead of behaving correctly, they are having their hair and/or nails done, having dinner parties and play dates, and getting together with their families”.

They point out that the healthcare system is already stretched, and it’s going to get worse.

“There is no doubt that irresponsible behaviour now will result in even more infections in our community than there are currently.”

They “sincerely believe” the COVID wards will fill up further and will 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.”

While the Linksfield Hospital team is doing its best to protect itself and the people around them, the doctors say, “It’s imperative that the more vulnerable members of our community are protected to the best of our abilities.” They emphasise that they find it “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.”

Hatzolah also issued a stern warning this week, following what it described as a “huge surge” in COVID-19 positive cases in the Johannesburg community in the past week. “You are advised not to leave your house unless you absolutely have to do so for essential reasons,” Hatzolah warned.

As yet, there is no cure and no specific treatment for the virus. The Linksfield physicians stressed that the virus affects men and women of all ages, and people with asymptomatic infections inadvertently infect the people around them. They say it’s likely that individuals may be highly contagious 48 hours before displaying symptoms. There is also uncertainty about whether a person can become re-infected.

The appeals began last Friday, when Meyberg issued an alarming voice note to the Yeshiva College community in the face of rising positive coronavirus cases.

Meyberg and the team of Linksfield physicians further pleaded with the community not to throw caution to the wind in their open letter.

“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, not having dinner parties, not taking off your mask during tea breaks and meetings, and by sanitising commonly used surfaces.”

Emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Barry Schoub, lashed out this week at those acting irresponsibly.

He said the country was currently in a “schizophrenic situation” which could have tragic consequences. The economic necessity of loosening lockdown restrictions to level 3 with expectations of further relaxation during the coming week had engendered a misplaced sense of relief and even a “post-lockdown” euphoria.

“It defies logic, common sense – or is it crass stupidity or crass disinterest – to learn of private poker games, mini-parties, private minyanim, and other social gatherings taking place in Johannesburg. One needs to simply collar these delinquents and drag them into the intensive-care wards of one of the hospitals. There they will see the agony of patients alone, isolated from their loved ones and, in more severe cases, dying a lonely death. Is this what they would want for themselves or, because they are young, don’t they care about passing on the infection to their loved ones? These individuals need to do some deep soul-searching and reflection, or simply think beyond satisfying their momentary needs,” he said.

Principals have urged parents to ensure that students observe all the safety protocols outside school.

King David Victory Park Principal Andrew Baker highlighted his concern in a letter to the parent body last month.

“I’m concerned to hear that students are meeting in malls and at one another’s homes outside of school. We are still in level 3 lockdown. There should be no social visits taking place at all.”

He shared the sentiments of a colleague of his, Jacinta Lucas, the executive head of Holy Rosary Convent, who made a desperate appeal in a letter to her parent body.

Children shouldn’t “visit each other after school or over weekends, for any reason whatsoever. There should be no lockdown parties or sleepovers. There should be no popping in to visit a friend. There should be no socialising in the local shopping centre or local park. If those around us break the rules, we’re all at risk.”

One parent told the SA Jewish Report, “Everyone is worried that the kids will go to school and get COVID-19 there, as if school itself is what will make them sick. However, the kids will be the ones bringing COVID-19 into the classrooms, not the other way around.”

At the time of going to press, there were 76 334 confirmed cases, 42 063 recovered patients, and 1 625 deaths.

To read the doctor’s open letter to the community, click here.

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