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In Covid-19 ward, medics battle worst infection wave yet

Healthcare workers assist Covid-19 patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by Gift of the Givers in Johannesburg, on July 11 2021.
Healthcare workers assist Covid-19 patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by Gift of the Givers in Johannesburg, on July 11 2021.
Image: REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham

In an emergency Covid-19 ward run by Gift of the Givers in southern Johannesburg, medics wheel gasping patients to their beds, rush from room to room with oxygen cylinders and pat the back of someone in the grip of a coughing fit.

The scenes in the converted community hall are a reminder of how badly SA has been hit by its third and most debilitating Covid-19 wave yet as the infectious Delta variant surges through a mostly unvaccinated population.

“The Delta variant has caused enormous strain on resources. Every hospital is strained, every healthcare worker is strained,” said Fatimah Lambat, the doctor in charge of the ward set up by Gift of the Givers to ease overloaded public hospitals.

“It’s very draining. Patients are still phoning me from the community for help. When we’re full here we still need to help them. We don’t want them to be lost.”

With SA recording an average of about 20,000 cases a day and nursing active cases, cumulatively, of more than 10 times that, Africa’s most economically advanced nation has also been its worst hit by the coronavirus with 64,000 deaths.

The vaccination campaign has been slow, with around 4.2 million doses administered to a population of 60 million. Officials aim to reach a vaccination rate of 300,000 a day by the end of August.

Doctors said they have never had to deal with so many Covid-19 infections at once. Hospitals in Johannesburg, where the latest wave started, are full.

For 79-year-old Catherine Naidoo, the most terrifying thing about falling gravely ill was knowing so many had died.

“You don’t know what lies ahead. You look at the news and see how people are passing away,” the recovered Covid-19 patient said while lying on her back and adjusting her mask.

“It was the most frightening experience.”

Behind another curtain, medics covered head to toe in protective gear adjusted the drip of a sleeping patient. In another, a medic was encouraging a patient to do exercises before getting her to blow into a tube to test her lungs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa extended Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday for another 14 days. The restrictions include a ban on gatherings, a curfew from 9pm to 4am and a nationwide ban on sales of alcohol.


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