Reality that Covid-19 is here has really hit home hard

The writer says her relief at her negative Covid-19 result was momentary, because just a few days later the minister of health announced that Soweto, where her family resides, had become an epicentre for the virus.
The writer says her relief at her negative Covid-19 result was momentary, because just a few days later the minister of health announced that Soweto, where her family resides, had become an epicentre for the virus.
Image: MICHELE SPATARI/AFP

When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared a few months ago, I was not too panicked. I followed with mild curiosity as countries far away battled with the virus. Even when the body count was rising, first in China and then in Italy, the pandemic seemed a distant problem.

When the first cases were reported in SA three months ago, I was naturally concerned. By that time, the world was a bloodbath. More and more countries were reporting shocking numbers of cases and the death toll was climbing at an alarming rate.

And so, when the SA government first instituted a lockdown, at a time when the infection rate was barely in the hundreds and no deaths had been reported, I was a bit sceptical.

I understood what the government was trying to do. Our ailing health infrastructure was not prepared for an outbreak the nature of what many countries were battling, and we needed time to prepare.

It was inevitable that we would be hit, and the government wanted to at least have some foundation in its fight. But I also wondered if the measures were not too drastic. Bringing an economy to a halt just weeks after a recession had been declared seemed extreme.

Over the past few months, I have been watching the developments of the pandemic in our country. The numbers were rising, deaths were being reported, and though like millions of South Africans I did the best I could to adhere to lockdown regulations, even as I found it difficult , I was still only concerned.

Panic had not set in - until a week ago. Something has happened over the past few days, and I am now paralysed with fear.

It is true that things always seem unreal until they have a human face you can recognise. Over the past few days, people I know have tested positive for Covid-19. People I know have died. I was left stunned when a childhood friend posted on Facebook that two of her relatives had died in hospital after testing positive.

I knew these people - these were familiar faces. The dying are no longer faceless people in some faraway country, they are people I have sat with on a street corner in Meadowlands, Soweto, people I have known my entire life.

Just last week I checked myself into hospital when I was struck down by a terrible flu. Never have I been as terrified of my own mortality as when the nurses did swabs inside my nose to send the specimen to the laboratory to test for Covid-19.

I could feel my heart palpitate with every passing hour as I sat in my house awaiting results. They came two days later - negative.

The sigh of relief that I breathed was temporary, because just a few days later the minister of health announced that Soweto has become an epicentre for the virus.

My entire family lives in Soweto. My grandmother is at home with four children aged between two and 17, including my only sibling. And given that there is barely any physical distancing in the township, I have become extremely afraid of what could happen.

Covid-19 is no longer happening far away, it is here. It is infecting our loved ones and we now live with the knowledge that any day a call may come in to say our grandmothers who have comorbidities have been admitted to hospitals that are becoming increasingly overwhelmed.

We need to take Covid-19 seriously. It is here. It is real. And if we do not take care and conduct ourselves accordingly, we are going to bury people we love. We are going to die.

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