As South Africa braced this week for the start of 21-day lockdown to contain Covid-19, a Hout Bay doctor, who specialises in studying the spread of diseases, says it’s vital to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Dvora Joseph Davey has been following Covid-19’s progress since January.
“As an epidemiologist and a Hout Bay resident, I am extremely concerned about the spread and virulence of coronavirus. But I refuse to panic.”
An assistant professor of epidemiology at UCT and University of California Los Angeles, her work focuses on how best to prevent and treat HIV in vulnerable populations throughout Africa.
As Covid-19 left China and started spreading around the globe, she found herself contemplating how it might be stopped from reaching our shores.
“Unfortunately now, coronavirus is here.”
She has joined a community group, Hout Bay Community Covid-19 Response, which seeks to reduce the impact of the virus on the community.
In Hout Bay, schools, sports fields, restaurants and bars all closed. Weddings, parties and sports events have all having been cancelled or delayed.
“I am thankful that these measures are taking place now, before people are sick. But more needs to be done, and fast,” says Dr Davey. “Staying home, keeping our kids home, limiting going out to buying essentials, elbow bumps in lieu of handshakes, giving people space (1.5 meters), all referred to as ‘social distancing’, are difficult choices for us all. However, these choices are impossible for a community that lives in informal settlements.
“We must do our best now to protect the most vulnerable in our community, as this disease knows no boundaries.”
Over-60s, diabetics, hypertensives, and those living with HIV or TB, have the highest risk of dying from the virus, she says.
“So many of us are in this vulnerable group in Hout Bay.
“This is your father, your teacher, your colleague, your nanny, and the lady who served you coffee this morning. The virus is most deadly if you are ill, malnourished or without formal housing.”
Covid-19’s overall mortality rate is sitting at 3.4%, compared with under 1% for the flu. But the mortality rate is 5% for over-60s and 18% for those over 80.
As of Wednesday March 25, there were 709 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa. On March 5, there was one.
“Yet, there are many more undiagnosed,” says Dr Davey. “This exponential growth of corona cases could lead to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people infected in Western Cape, and Hout Bay, alone in the coming weeks. “I have close friends who are nurses, doctors, epidemiologists working on the front line of this pandemic. They are high-risk people too. We need to support them by staying home (if you can) or social distancing (no parties, bars, tourism). We can also support our vulnerable groups, including the elderly and those living in informal settlements, to facilitate them staying home while we work together to flatten our epidemic curve in Hout Bay.”
Meanwhile, Community Cohesion’s founder Bronwyn Moore says Lockdown is going to bring out a range of emotional responses in people, including guilt about not being able to see elderly parents of family, fear of the unknown and anxiety about finances and day-to-day survival.
“What to hold on to is that all these emotions are normal, the situation we are in is abnormal,” she says.
Community Cohesion will be there for anyone feeling “overwhelmed”, she says.
“Be patient with yourself, be kind to those around you, your patience will be stretched, you will feel irritated. Physically distance yourself as much as you are able to, but try not to be emotionally distant. It will not be easy, but South Africans are resilient, we pull together when it really counts.”
The lockdown began midnight on Thursday March 26 and runs to midnight April 16.
No one will be allowed to leave their home for the 21 days except to seek medical care, buy food, medicine or other necessities and collect social grants.
Health workers, soldiers and police will still work, along with essential personnel in the food, banking and basic-services industries.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, laboratories, banks, petrol stations will remain open as well as companies essential to the production of food.