'No-one wears a mask and social distancing is a joke': PE sees Covid infection rate rise
Motherwell didn't look like a Covid-19 hotspot on Friday night as throngs of revellers — most of them without masks — packed taverns and bars.
The Port Elizabeth suburb has watched its infection rate soar as the virus reasserts its stranglehold on Nelson Mandela Bay, but the owner of one busy tavern had other worries.
“The people you see working here have families to feed. They will lose everything if you do this,” the man said as bouncers prevented the Sunday Times taking photographs. “Why don't you go and take pictures of clubs in town?”
Visiting Motherwell Mall earlier in the day, health minister Zweli Mkhize fielded questions from the relatively small number of Black Friday shoppers, including one query about whether alcohol prevented Covid-19.
Motherwell resident Ntombizanele Majamana, 56, urged Mkhize to convince the cabinet to impose strict regulations in Port Elizabeth. “I have lost many relatives to Covid-19,” she said.
“I wish we could return to the strict lockdown because [then] people adhered to the rules. At the moment people are acting as if Covid-19 is gone, they are attending churches, funerals and traditional ceremonies in numbers.
“Motherwell is a hotspot. I know exactly what is happening. You can visit the taverns this evening to see what I am talking about. No-one wears a mask and social distancing is a joke.”
Mkhize said he had come to “give support to the province” and his team was looking at how hospitals were coping, investigating complaints about bed shortages and monitoring behavioural change.
“Whilst Eastern Cape in general has shown a rise in numbers, Nelson Mandela Bay specifically seems to the be a hotspot,” Mkhize said. “But in addition we have seen [a rise in cases] in Sarah Baartman and Buffalo City.
“The increasing numbers are not only seen in the Eastern Cape. We have been monitoring ... the Western Cape as well as other provinces. We notice some areas in districts where clusters are showing. At this point. the Western Cape numbers are even higher now than KwaZulu-Natal. It is beginning to indicate that we have resurgence in both provinces at this point.
“We have an opportunity still to act on these outbreaks so that we can further delay the spread of this infection to various provinces. But I must say we are concerned, looking at the fact that we are now entering the festive season, that the numbers might start rising as a result of the practices associated with the festive season.”
Mkhize admitted hospitals had problems, and added: “With the resurgence it has been established that the numbers that we are seeing here are higher than the numbers we saw during the surge in July/August. The pressure is being felt by the staff, [and] it is the same health-care workers who were part of the surge since the onset of the Covid-19. Therefore fatigue, the psychosocial strain, amongst our staff is actually a real issue.
“It is understandable that at this point pressure would be felt but what exacerbates the pressure is the increase, and also the number of staff who get infected is increasing. It forces many of them to take leave and also to quarantine ... and so those who remain [are left] with the tension of having to see their colleagues either sick or passing.”
He said support and training would be provided and the workload redistributed. A better system had been developed to source protective gear, and complaints about a hospital bed shortage related only to observation wards.
The demand for Covid-19 testing has increased in Port Elizabeth, and a lengthy queue had formed outside a community centre in Schauderville by 9am on Friday.
Lizel Orana, 44, said she had paid a R15 taxi fare from Gelvandale to get a test.
“The queue in Gelvandale is way too long, people are coming out to test in numbers,” she said. “They have realised that this thing is real and they better be on the safe side. I hope to get my test today. People in my community are very reckless, so it is better for me to know that I am safe.”
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