No vigilance despite second wave flag

A look at Photojournalist, Courtney Africa’s COVID-19 pandemic pictures for World Photography Day. World Photography Day is an annual, worldwide celebration of the art, craft, science and history of photography. The next World Photography Day will take place on Wednesday, August 19th.

A message making its rounds on social media has warned of a rising number in cases of Covid-19 in Grassy Park, Lotus River, Pelican Park and Ottery over the past few weeks and has some residents worried.

The message, headed by the Western Cape Health Department’s logo, claimed the areas had been flagged as being at particular risk for the spread of Covid-19.

In the notice residents were encouraged to wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash or sanitise their hands: “We know people really want things to go back to normal, but we have to deal with reality and the reality is that Covid-19 is rising so take action and keep yourself and others safe.”

On Sunday November 22, the Western Cape’s total infections stood at 125 449 with over 5 000 active cases – meaning the total number of currently infected patients – and 20 903 deaths since the outbreak. The national state of emergency has been extended to Tuesday December 15 and the country is still at level 1 restrictions but most businesses have reopened.

Ottery community worker Christo Williams said it’s business as usual in Ottery and many have abandoned safety protocols like wearing masks.

“We as community workers have tried to encourage people to continue safety protocols but on the ground people are not as vigilant as before. Life is back to normal, people have gone back to work because they have to take care of their families financially.

I implore people to continue wearing their masks and taking precautions to stop a second wave and further spreading of the virus,” said Mr Williams.

Mark van der Heever, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, said the department was aware of the notice circulating on social media but it was not an official hot spot alert by the department.

However, he said there has been an increase in cases in some areas of Cape Town.

“The number of Covid-19 cases are increasing in the metro, as was mentioned at the premier’s weekly press conference and so we do urge heightened vigilance by all residents.

“The Department of Health reiterates that the best way to prevent a spike of new infections is to change your behaviour by wearing a mask, keeping a distance, avoiding gatherings and crowds, and regularly washing your hands with soap and water,” said Mr Van der Heever.

Asked if this constitutes as the start of the expected second wave of the virus, Monique Johnstone, principal communications officer for the department, could not confirm it but said prevention of the second wave is needed.

“We are aware of the inevitable public fatigue regarding prevention measures, and the real need to return to economic activity. Despite our wanting to return to normal, and despite the relative success of our Covid-19 response, it is important to keep up our prevention behaviour. Covid-19 is not gone; we need to work together to minimise a second wave.”

She added that flare-ups in the Western Cape are starting to become a trend as more people are moving around and economic activity is allowed under level 1 restrictions.

“We are seeing smaller clusters of infections flare up – both in our metro and rural areas. Many of these flare-ups originate at social gatherings which can be anything from a party, religious gathering or even in a workplace – any place where large numbers of people congregate that is crowded, has poor ventilation and social distancing cannot be maintained,” she said.

These are called super-spreader events.

She encouraged the community to urgently consider making safer choices and to avoid these super-spreader events.

“As we enter summer and traditional holiday season, there is a need to socialise and see other people. Ensure you connect safely with other people and stay as safe as possible. When going out, always wear your mask and avoid crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. Do not become complacent.”

If you are socialising, try to meet up with a friend outside, maintain a distance of 1.5m and wear a mask.

Meanwhile, David Maynier, the Western Cape MEC of Finance and Economic Opportunity, appealed to shoppers and businesses to maintain Covid-19 safety protocols ahead of Black Friday sales to avoid super-spreading of the virus.

Black Friday traditionally marked the start of the festive spending season.

“This year will be an opportunity for businesses to recover revenue lost during the Covid-19 restrictions, however, we appeal to retail businesses to please implement the necessary health guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19 and ensure that their staff and customers are as safe as possible,” said Mr Maynier.

Some of the strategies given by the department was for businesses to reduce congestion at stores by running as many promotions online as possible, staying open for longer and running specials over a longer period.

Mr Maynier also encouraged screening, mask wearing and store entrance staggering.

“Supporting retail sales during this time is important to our economic recovery in the Western Cape, but both customers and businesses need to anticipate any potential Covid-19 health risks that may occur in order to ensure that we keep safe and move forward,” he said.