South Africa is struggling to contain a second wave of Covid-19 infections, fueled by a virulent new local variant of the virus, ‘Covid fatigue’ and a series of ‘super-spreading’ events.
Health officials on Thursday announced 844 deaths and 21,832 new cases in 24 hours, the worst toll to date. Experts believe that the second wave has not yet reached its peak in the country of 60 million people and fear that the health services of the main economic and cultural center of the country will struggle to cope with the influx of patients.
Unlike richer countries, South Africa cannot afford to repeat the strict lockdown imposed last year, which caused enormous economic and social damage. Some are predicting a third wave when winter hits the southern hemisphere in May and June and there are concerns that current vaccines may be less effective against the new variant.
“We’re going to have a third wave, even a fourth. This pandemic is only just beginning, ”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 around 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available to health workers by the end of next month.
It’s unclear how promises to deploy jabs to two-thirds of the population throughout the year can be kept, even though South Africa will get enough hits for 10% of its 60 million citizens thanks to the global Covax initiative, designed to ensure an equitable supply of inexpensive vaccines for the poorest countries.
South Africa’s official death toll from Covid-19 is now 31,368, but reliable excess mortality figures suggest more than 71,000 have died since May. The country is the most affected in Africa.
On a 4,000 km journey between the hard-hit province of KwaZulu-Natal and the western city of Cape Town, now at the center of the second wave, signs of the pandemic were clear. Shops and restaurants have been closed on all main streets in every city, with infrastructure suffering from a dire lack of repair and maintenance. Unemployment has skyrocketed as key industries such as mining and hospitality have suffered.
“We had almost nothing. Now we have nothing at all, ”said Nicolas Mvoko, a former winemaker who recently lost his job in the Hex Valley in the Western Cape. Wine and beer makers have suffered from repeated bans aimed at preventing gatherings in which social distancing has been ignored and to relieve pressure on the healthcare system.
The poor and rural province of Limpopo appears to have escaped the worst of the first wave, but was hit hard by the second.
“It’s really, really bad here. Everyone knows someone who has passed away. The health care system is very weak, ”Mashamba said. “Covid fatigue was a big factor. You can’t believe how many weddings were going on. I have been invited to baby showers. I thought: this is horrible, you expose pregnant women.
Efforts to control the flow of people across borders are also compromised by corruption and inefficiency. Huge crowds gathered at the crossing point with Zimbabwe last week as migrant workers rushed back to work in South Africa after Christmas. Although all were believed to have undergone official negative Covid tests, a reported bribe of Rand 2,500 (£ 120) to border guards secured passage without questions.
“I went with a group of about 20 people and we all paid the Zimbabwean soldiers and then the South African soldiers and we bypassed the border post through the bush and across the border then we are all went everywhere we go in South Africa ”. said Joy Mvulane, a domestic worker who traveled last week from the southern Zimbabwe town of Bulawayo to Johannesburg.
Alex van den Heever, professor of social security systems administration at Wits University in Johannesburg, said South African policymakers, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, had limited options.
“The problem in South Africa is a [hard lockdown] has a massive social and economic impact. South Africa is unable to support those who lose their income and parts of the country are effectively unblockable 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 confidence has been undermined by a series of corruption allegations, particularly around contracts. massive for protective equipment at the start of the pandemic.
Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter said unnecessary spending during a pandemic made her ‘blood boil’.
“What bothers me even more is the amount of money lost to corruption, it’s 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 Courier and tutor.