Taxi violence hinders Covid-19 response in the Western Cape

Despite a noticeable plateau in new Covid-19 infections, the healthcare system in the Western Cape is still dealing with high hospital admissions, with its critical care facilities reaching full capacity. 

The ongoing taxi violence in the province has made things worse, hindering the Western Cape’s response to the pandemic, with healthcare workers unable to commute easily between home and work.

“We appeal to the people to provide a safe passage for healthcare workers,” Western Cape health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said on Thursday during this week’s virtual provincial briefing on the pandemic.

Mbombo noted that, because of the violence in the taxi industry, mainly around disputes over routes, a mobile vaccination bus was not able to reach Gugulethu on Monday. Furthermore, residents in Gugulethu, Nyanga and Khayelitsha were directed elsewhere to get inoculated, because vaccination sites were forced to halt operations. 

The Siyabuya! #MakeSAbetter movement has voiced its own concerns about the impact taxi violence has had on the local vaccination drive.

“We need peace because we need people to get their jabs. The fact that talks, including with the government, have failed once again to produce an agreement is devastating. It’s going to affect thousands of people in Cape Town who still cannot get to vaccination sites,” leader Melene Rossouw said in a statement.

However, Mbombo gave her assurance that these sites were “back on track” and would  operate throughout Saturday as well. 

The movement of healthcare workers was also limited because of the taxi violence; several of them were either left stranded without transport, or could not enter hotspot areas. 

More than 3 000 Covid-19 patients currently need treatment in private, public and field hospitals. Admissions are increasing, with an average of 330 new admissions each day.  Covid-19 related deaths have also increased to about 82 daily, according to the head of health in the Western Cape, Keith Cloete.

During the online Covid-19 update, Cloete painted a grim picture about how trauma cases had increased over the past seven days, despite the level four lockdown regulations meant to contain them, still being in full effect. He attributed the increase to the taxi unrest. 

“Because of the alcohol restrictions, we [initially] had a 25% decrease in [week-on-week] trauma cases and on weekends, we had a 33.9% decrease. That helped a lot with the capacity of the hospitals, because of the restriction of alcohol, but also because of curfew and movement,” said Cloete, noting that the last seven days, however, showed an uptick.

“It’s not related to alcohol or restrictions of movement. It can only be related to the impact of the recent taxi violence and associated trauma in community settings,” argued Cloete. 

This week 1 504 trauma cases were recorded in the province, a  9% increase from last week’s 1 378.  Over the weekend a 17% increase in trauma incidents across 17 hospital emergency centres was recorded.

According to Cloete, another concern relates to the decrease in Covid-19 testing, because of “a range of factors, including taxi violence.”

The absence of large-scale testing prevents a clear projection of whether the province has reached its peak of the third wave of the pandemic.

However, this week’s assessment shows a 73% probability that the province has reached the peak and is starting to show a downward trend in new infections. 

“We’ve seen a 3.2% increase in cases, a significantly lower increase of cases than the nearly 40% seen last week,” said Cloete.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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