Behind the Covid-19 spiral in the Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is seeing an alarming increase in the numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 because of funerals, soccer tournaments and people not adhering to lockdown rules, according to senior government officials.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Eastern Cape had registered 199 cases of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. There are 2415 confirmed cases of Covid-19 throughout South Africa, with 410 people recovered and 27 deaths reported.

But since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown beginning on March 26 and extended it until the end of April, the Eastern Cape has seen a significant increase in its number of cases.

According to government officials who are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic in the Eastern Cape and who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, the situation on the ground in that province was being exacerbated by people not adhering to the lockdown rules by continuing to attend funerals en masse and hosting soccer tournaments in villages with no regard for physical distancing.

In one of the cases that led to Covid-19 infections at one of the correctional facilities in that province, a prison warder attended a funeral and then returned to work, said a senior health official.

This saw inmates and other prison officials being infected with the coronavirus. The Eastern Cape has reported 83 cases at correctional facilities, which include 56 inmates and 26 officials East London’s Westbank prison, a prison for women; and one official at St Albans prison in Port Elizabeth who is now in self-isolation.

“People are still going to funerals, especially in the villages, because people are not taking this thing seriously. Even the six people [who] tested positive in Port St Johns are still walking around the villages and refusing to go to hospital. There are also still people playing soccer in the villages, which means no one is listening to the lockdown rules,” said the official.

Another official who had visited the OR Tambo district municipality said there was no lockdown being practiced in that area, which includes Port St Johns. “The fear is that those people [who] were infected from that funeral, which was held at Majola village, are still out there and not quarantined. Also there is no sense [from] the funeral parlour person [of] who was there at the funeral, how many other people he has been in contact with and how many funerals he has conducted.

“There are people who are still going to town with children and doing shopping because there are no systems in place to deal with lockdown in those areas,” said the official.

One of the officials also told the M&G that the increase in cases of Covid-19 in Queenstown have been proven to have also emanated from people attending funerals. “There is also scientific proof that the cases have increased, because they are being imported from outside the province by people who have been travelling to funerals from other provinces,” said the official.

One of the people who attended a funeral in Queenstown is now on a ventilator at Frontier hospital; another was admitted to Komani hospital.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba’s spokesperson, Judy Ngoloyi, said they are doing all they can to trace people who had attended funerals in Port Elizabeth and Port St Johns.

“Those two funerals did a lot of damage, hence the numbers have been picking up dramatically in the Eastern Cape. In Port St Johns, now we have six cases tested positive and our teams are doing their best to find those they have been in contact with. We are also urging people who attended any of those funerals to go and test voluntarily,” said Ngoloyi.

“Today [Wednesday], the mayor of Chris Hani [district municipality] is going around in Queenstown trying to reach out to those people who might have been in contact with the two individuals there. Our officials cannot be everywhere,” she said. “We do urge people to adhere to the rules of 50 people or [fewer at] a funeral. There are twenty cases in Chris Hani now, and the rise is surprising how it happened.”

Meanwhile, Eastern Cape public works MEC Babalo Madikizela’s spokesperson, Zine George, said they are currently working hard to clean up and prepare sites that have been identified for quarantine purposes.

“The need for space is declared by the health department, so we work according to their declared need for space. We were tasked to check within the state assets, which are clinics, hospitals and other buildings,” George said.

“In Dora Nginza hospital, Port Elizabeth, we have identified an empty block in the hospital, which was not being used, so we will make sure it’s cleaned and can be used for quarantine purposes. The refurbishments are almost finished.

“We will look for buildings that are almost ready and won’t take much time to prepare …” she added.

On Good Friday, a number of taxis were seen entering the Eastern Cape from the Western Cape and were stopped by a roadblock in Aberdeen. It is alleged that the huge numbers were people going home amid Covid-19 lockdown panic; some were attending funerals.

According to another source: “Those taxis didn’t enter the province. They were sent back where they came from. It was apparently people who had permits to attend funerals in the Eastern Cape. Whoever issued so many permits was out of line. The premier was straight in telling people that only 50 people or less are allowed to attend a funeral”.

The 29 hospitals earmarked to to tackle the coronavirus

Provincial health spokesperson Judy Ngoloyi said the department has three hospitals with intensive-care units (ICUs) that the Eastern Cape can use in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The department has, during this time, identified these tertiary hospitals: Livingstone, Nelson Mandela academic and Frere hospitals, including the regional hospitals, Frontier hospital in Queenstown and Cecilia Makiwane at BCM [Buffalo City Municipality], even though patients will first be admitted in tertiary hospital ICUs,” said Ngoloyi.

She added that the department of health is working on a plan to procure additional beds, as this seems to be a big need.

“Plans are afoot to procure 2000 additional beds, of which 240 will be high-care or ICU beds. Funding has been provided through a disaster fund and a  special allocation from the provincial treasury,” said Ngoloyi.

List of provincial hospitals

Buffalo City municipality: Fort Grey TB, Frere and New Haven hospitals in East London;

Amathole district municipality: Winterberg TB, Madwaleni and Thafalofefe hospitals;

Chris Hani district municipality: Frontier, All Saints and Komani Psychiatric hospitals;

OR Tambo district municipality: Nelson Mandela academic, Mthatha regional, St Elizabeth Mission, Dr Malizo Mpehle, St Barnabas, Holy Cross, St Lucia and Sir Henry Elliot hospitals;

Sarah Baartman district municipality: Midlands, Humansdorp, Willowmore, Marjorie Parish TB and Margery Parkes TB hospitals;

Alfred Nzo district municipality: Khotsong and Madzikane kaZulu hospitals; and

Joe Gqabi district municipality: Aliwal North, Mpilisweni, Maclear, Taylor Bequest and uMlamli hospitals. — Chris Gilili and Thanduxolo Jika

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.
Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

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