COVID: One year later

This all happened during the past year

  • The Covid-19 pandemic originated in Wuhan, China near the end of 2019. Since then the virus has spread to the rest of the world with Italy, America and Brazil hardest hit in terms of mortality.
  • On March 5, 2020, South Africa’s first positive cases, a 38-year-old man from KwaZulu-Natal and his wife who had returned from Italy, were confirmed. Shortly after, a prayer breakfast in Bloemfontein, attended by 859 people, led to 67 new positive cases, among them Rev Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the ACDP, and preacher Angus Buchan.
  • On March 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster with immediate travel restrictions and the closure of schools.
  • On March 17, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was established.
  • On March 23, Ramaphosa announced a national 21-day lockdown to commence on March 27. The first death, Madelein van Wyk (48) of the Western Cape, was also recorded on this day.
  • On April 1, South Africa began with mass testing, particularly in townships and rural areas. The virus spread rapidly and the strict measures of the national lockdown included a total ban on liquor and cigarette sales. The economic and other social ramifications were criticised widely and mostly directed at the NCCC.
  • On April 9 it was announced that the country’s national lockdown would be extended by two weeks. South Africans were now brewing pineapple beer and other concoctions to quench their thirst for alcohol. This led to various deaths across the country. The illegal cigarette trade boomed and the fiscus lost an estimated R35 million per day. The police and defence force presence in widespread areas assisted in enforcing lockdown regulations, but police minister Bheki Cele was also criticised as several police brutality cases were reported. Regulations like the prohibition on the sale of sandals and hot food became a source of ridicule among South Africans.
  • On April 10, Collins Khoza of Alexandra was assaulted and killed by soldiers of the SANDF, becoming the ninth victim of the police and military. The Pretoria High Court ordered the government to prevent police abuse during the lockdown.
  • On April 21, Ramaphosa announced a R500-billion support package for the economy, but because of corruption some of these funds never reached its intended targets. Lockdown restrictions were eased for the first time on April 24 as part of a phased plan. While Ramaphosa promised the lift of the cigarette and alcohol ban, minister Nkosazana Dlamini announced the opposite during the NCCC briefing.
  • On April 27, 217 Cuban medical health specialists arrived in South Africa to assist with the pandemic at a cost of R429 million. Their appointment and Ramaphosa’s announcement that the group will be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize were also clouded in controversy.
  • On May 1 the lockdown was moved to level 4, while the Western Cape became SA’s Covid-19 epicentre. An estimated 1,5 million South Africans returned to work on May 4.
  • On June 1, South Africa entered alert level 3. Alcohol was permitted to be sold for home consumption with a restriction on trading days and hours. Schools and universities were reopened with a phased approach. Limited domestic air travel was permitted for business purposes.
  • On June 23, the first Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa began.
  • On July 9, South Africa recorded the highest number of confirmed infections in one day: 13 674. Three days later Ramaphosa announced the immediate ban of alcohol sales again.
  • July 23, 2020 special investigating unit to probe misuse of Covid-19 funds.
  • January 10, 2021, Government warned about ‘huge’ Covid-19 vaccine theft.
  • February 7, 2021, SA’s Covid-19 vaccines are expiring earlier than planned.
  • July 23, 2020, special investigating unit to probe misuse of Covid-19 funds.
  • January 10, 2021, Government warned about ‘huge’ Covid-19 vaccine theft.
  • February 7, 2021, SA’s Covid-19 vaccines are expiring earlier than planned.

Health workers hit hard

More than 35 000 healthcare workers contracted Covid-19 by the end of last year of whom more than 400 died, according to minister of health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. New stats are not available, which leave unions in the health industry sceptical.

According to Dr Angelique Coetzee,
chairperson of the South African Medical Association, more than 300 doctors had died by the first week of February.

Apart from deaths, a shortage of key workers is just one reason South African hospitals are facing unprecedented pressure from the ongoing resurgence of coronavirus cases, driven by a new variant that appears more infectious than earlier strains.

The ban on alcohol showed clearly that alcohol-related incidents put an enormous strain on emergency units. The latest data on deaths from unnatural causes (such as vehicle collisions, murders and accidents) from the South African Medical Research Council, gives some insight.

The number of unnatural deaths dropped dramatically from more than 1 000 in a week to just over 600 after the alcohol ban was reinstated and the curfew extended on December 28, 2020. This was significantly lower than forecasted. They shot up from just more than 600 to almost 1 000 with the unbanning and the reduction of curfew earlier this month. This came within an inch of the prediction.

Editor recounts her nightmare

You’ve read the news headlines, you’ve stocked up on sanitiser and you have a bunch of face masks and shields. You feel Covid-ready. You make minimal trips to the store, you prep your children on safety measures – so how is it still possible to contract this virus?
These were the thoughts of Rekord deputy group editor, Corné van Zyl, when she started to feel sick in December.
Van Zyl and her family, who reside in the Willows in the east of Pretoria, opted to stay home for the festive season, as she and her husband Charles both had to work. The couple have a two-year-old son, Logan.
“I started to feel a little sick on the day before Christmas,” said Van Zyl.
“We had a family gathering, but only clo-sest family members attended. On the 26th, I started to feel extremely tired, almost like I wanted to sleep the entire day.
“We wrote it off to sheer exhaustion from Christmas and having family over. On the night of the 28th, my health would, however, take a change for the worse when I woke up with a horrific fever of 39,7 degrees.
Van Zyl said she immediately knew she had contracted Covid-19; being in the media industry, she knew exactly what symptoms to look out for.
“My symptoms intensified the few following days, but they included kidney pain. On the 31st of December I decided to get tested. We isolated and I medicated myself, which clearly made no difference to my health.”
Van Zyl explained that one of the strangest aspects of this time was the hallucinations she experienced while having a high fever.
“Charles asked me repeatedly to take me to hospital, but to be honest, I was scared. I had heard all the news of so many people who didn’t survive this second strain. After getting the message that I did in fact test positive, we decided to isolate and get better at home.”

On Wednesday January 6, Van Zyl experienced continuing hallucinations and the couple decided to drive to the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria.
“I was pushed into the emergency room, very weak, a sky-high fever and I was unbelievably scared and paranoid about what was about to happen. I didn’t even have time to kiss Charles and Logan goodbye. After enduring all kinds of blood tests and scans to my lungs, I could see the fear and panic in the doctors’ eyes. I had Covid-19 pneumonia and had severely low oxygen levels. Before I could make sense of the situation, I was wheeled into ICU; a lonely, dark room with no TV or windows, just a bunch of machines. I had no way of speaking to anyone. My nightmare had begun.”
Van Zyl told Rekord that a nurse waited outside her room; every time she wanted to ask something, the nurse had to put on layers of PPE, plastic covers and be sanitised again before she could tend to her requests or needs.

“Lying in that room, having only my thoughts, was the loneliest time of my life. I have never been so scared and uncertain of anything. Thinking about my family, whether I would walk out of there and wondering whether my son would have to grow up without me.”
She said that when the medical personnel moved her from one room to another, they covered her with plastic bags.
“I can’t explain what amazing people these medical workers are. They are all angels. They took care of me and supported me through everything. “I will go as far to say that the emotional burden of this experience is much worse that the physical pain and discomfort I had to go through. I have always considered myself a strong person, but this virus broke me. The uncertainty of what was going to happen to my life, my husband and my son. I wasn’t at all prepared in any sense. At times, I had to prepare myself for the worst and made peace with the fact that I could probably die from this,” she said. Van Zyl was released from hospital after spending six days in ICU, secluded and separated from the rest of the world.
She said that her Covid journey is far from over as the recovery process takes a while and that the effects of her symptoms are starting to show as she gets back to her life. “I have already noticed how much muscle mass I’ve lost after the last week. My body feels broken and I am out of breath doing the smallest tasks.”
Van Zyl plans to take in and appreciate every small bit of her life after her ordeal.
“I do not wish this virus on anyone,I am afraid to go into the outside world, I just want to stay home, stay away from everyone and protect my loved ones. Please do not underestimate this virus.
It is brutal and it’s quick. I have anamazing support system and people who helped out so much during this past week. I feel tremendously grateful to be alive,” she concluded.

Little known about the lasting impact of Covid on patients

When she was diagnosed with Covid-19 in October last year, group editor for Caxton Local Newspapers, Irma Green, experienced fear. She had some of the comorbidities and didn’t know whether she was going to make it.

I was lucky to experience a mild illness and relieved that it “ended” with me not going to hospital.
Reality struck when I soon realised that I was far from healthy and being back to normal. The debilitating tiredness made it almost impossible to resume my normal duties. One of the most challenging side effects was dealing with the “brain fog” I experienced. I couldn’t remember, found it difficult to express myself and I forgot words and names.
Having to be on top of the game caused me to experience constant stress. I had pie-ces of paper scattered around the house to remind of tasks and eventually I had dots on my hands to remind me to look at the papers! My diary was taken up by list upon list, but I found it difficult to concentrate on tasks. I think for the first time I had some idea of what it must be to deal with attention deficit disorder, as my attention span was short. I found it hard to complete tasks at the same speed I used to. One of my earliest Covid-19 symptoms was inflammation in my joints, but especially in my feet and ankles. I have not been able to get rid of it and even when lying down, I have a burning sensation on the soles of my feet and pain in my ankles.
While I tried to explain some of the symptoms to a doctor, little was known about long-haulers. A friend with knowledge in neuropathy told me to join an American support group and, at last, I found solace that I was not losing my mind. There were thousands of other patients experiencing the same and in the USA there were post-Covid medical practices that specialised in the treatment of long-haulers.

I could draw from the information shared on the group. I could find an explanation why, after three days of walking, I would have another “sick day” waiting for me. Many patients became exercise-intolerant. My days became like a survival game, plucking up the courage to get up, work until around lunchtime, taking a half-hour nap, working again, eating dinner and hitting the bed before eight. I didn’t have the energy to socialise or interact and would rather spend every spare minute in bed. I would listen to spiritual, motivational and meditational talks to calm me down.
Two months after my diagnosis, I managed to get an appointment with an internist doctor who did a full-body check-up including blood tests, lung function tests and a brain scan. Clotting is one the dangerous side effects of Covid and this cleared the fear that I may have suffered tiny strokes. The results were in my favour, but the doctor was understanding of the disease as he had seen an increase in post-Covid patient consultations. He adapted my prescription and added medicine treating brain function and preventing blood clots. It is almost five months later and I can finally say that I am on the mend. My “off days” are becoming fewer. There are still days that I feel overwhelmed and battle to cope and I have also experienced that stressful days always precede a “downer”. The fog has mostly lifted and my friends and family are quite happy that I have my sense of humour back. Post-Covid is real and employers, colleagues, family and friends of these patients need to offer as much support. It takes time and patience to return to your former self.

Famous South Africans who died from Covid

Moonyeenn Lee - 13/06/20

This casting director was remembered by the entertainment industry after she had died from Covid-19 complications at the age of 76. The star spent 47 years in the industry. Moonyeenn was involved in the casting for the Oscar award winning film Tsotsi and others such as The Bang Bang Club, Disgrace, Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, the Oscar-nominated Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond.

Jackson Mthembu 21/01/21

This minister in the presidency died of Covid-19 related complications on January 21, 2021. He was 62 at the time of his death. Mthembu was at the forefront of the government’s fight against the virus. He was responsible for communicating government’s messages in the fight against the pandemic.

Dawn Lindberg - 07/12/21

The founder and CEO of the Naledi Theatre Awards succumbed to health complications related to Covid-19 on December 7, 2020. Dawn Lindberg was a South African folk singer, actress, theatre producer, director and founder of the South African Naledi Theatre Awards, but was more commonly known for her part in the musical folk group Des and Dawn with her husband Des Lindberg.

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