Editorial: Politicians fiddled, now Gauteng burns in a third wave

There are numerous competing interests in this pandemic game — saving lives, economic recovery, and an election year’s politics. But with 17 493 new Covid-19 cases reported in one day across the country, and more than 10 000 in Gauteng, it is a no-brainer that the state and the ministerial advisory committee should have shut down the country earlier. 

The second Covid-19 wave unexpectedly hit us all hard as people were getting ready to visit family and friends after not seeing them for close to a year. There were lessons we should have learned from, but it seems we didn’t. Everyone, including the ministerial committee and the presidency, knew the third wave was coming and, just like the second, would and could be harsher, especially as new variants emerge all the time. 

Only now, a week after the country was taken to lockdown level three-light, do the murmurs of Gauteng being placed under a stricter lockdown begin. Experts seem to be split on this. But the louder voices are saying that it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. It’s too late. 

The situation on the ground is terrible, though, with half of the patients admitted to hospitals across the country in Gauteng. By Tuesday, the province recorded more than 10 000 active cases, whereas the other provinces did not even hit 2 000 new cases.

With more than half of the cases, deaths, hospital admission in Gauteng, locking the province down now, two weeks before the actual peak of the third wave, would have more devastating consequences.

And President Cyril Ramaphosa has said on numerous occasions that the balance between saving lives and the economy is vital. 

Last April, Professor Salim Abdool Karim told the country that the best way to fight Covid-19 was to flatten the curve. Abdool Karim introduced a new image: that of “small fires”, extinguished before they turn into large, unmanageable conflagrations. Mass testing is a way of seeking out hotspots of infection, “putting our community health workers onto the ground, looking for the fires”.

We have forgotten this advice, and it shows through our scurrying right now to decide whether we place Gauteng on a stricter lockdown. 

Unfortunately, there were no firemen in Gauteng to put out those little fires. Instead, for weeks as the numbers climbed, we watched. The country dabbled in discussions of whether we would get more vaccines or why we didn’t want them from China and Russia. 

Amid all this indecision, we are now bearing the brunt of a system that is still not conducive for dealing with community transmissions. Harsher restrictions and constant lockdowns are not the answer. The answer lies in a competent system that uses the data wisely and a population that is not as reckless as ours. 

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