People may clap for the work they do, or sing for them from balconies, but 27 healthcare workers in the Western Cape paid the ultimate price for being at the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.
One doctor, 13 nurses, and 13 workers from other sectors of the health department have succumbed to the virus in the province since the pandemic was first detected.
The 27 deaths in the public healthcare sector were recorded by 26 June.
The province is currently moving through what it hopes is the peak, and then a subsequent decline in the high number of cases.
Although the first case of the novel coronavirus was detected in Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal, the first person recorded to have died of the virus was from the Western Cape.
Local transmission began far quicker than thought, and the tail end of the tourism season, before the lockdown in March, is understood to have played a part in this.
The number of confirmed cases in the province spiked so dramatically that the health department could not keep up with the testing required as it tried to trace and test contacts with positive cases.
A special transport service reserved for essential service workers, called Red Dot, was among the province’s interventions as the deaths and cases continued to escalate.
To catch up with the testing backlog, and to prevent another from forming, the province now limits testing to people over 55, people with comorbidities, and people who are showing symptoms of the virus.
Others are expected to either quarantine or isolate if their symptoms are mild, and the City of Cape Town on Monday implored people to not go outdoors at all if they are isolating or in quarantine due to Covid-19.
Last week, Groote Schuur Hospital nursing assistant Judith Parenzee said that, at first, they were not sure of what to expect, but once Covid-19 started filling up intensive care unit beds, “it is like war”.
Parenzee has lost colleagues already – among them Sister Eva Isaacs, who had worked at Groote Schuur for 20 years, and Sister Patricia Coetzee, who was there for 34 years, including the intensive care unit.
The department said it is extremely proud of health workers and remains concerned about their health and safety.
“While it may not be possible to guarantee a zero risk to frontline staff, it is important that all efforts are made to ensure safety,” said the department. “We would like to thank our healthcare workers, who remain committed and dedicated during this difficult time.Western Cape health department.”
It also encouraged staffers to take up the offer of the free counselling available to them.
In addition, they have provided 21 435 health workers with flu vaccinations, and have increased personal protective equipment availability.
Figures for the number of cases in the private health sector were not immediately available.