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South Africa’s third wave of COVID may be the worst coronavirus pandemic news to date

Cape Town, South Africa—— With a 10-bed private clinic in western Johannesburg, Bayanda Gumende is more accustomed to treating kidney disease than COVID-19. But as the city’s hospitals became overcrowded, patients stayed in the injury room for several days, and ambulances were parked in the parking lot, this situation began to change.

The 27-year-old chief nephrology technologist said he received a call from a patient who was in urgent need of oxygen but could not find it elsewhere. But due to limited supply, he was forced to give priority.

“It has an impact on me. It’s very emotional to watch people take their last breath. Some people are gasping. Actually, you can’t do anything about it. You can’t save everyone,” he said.

South Africa accounts for nearly 40% of all COVID-19 deaths on the African continent, and the official death toll so far is 60,038. Due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, it is currently in the third wave. The variant was first discovered in India and quickly became the main strain.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a world-leading epidemiologist and former co-chair of the South African COVID-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee, believes that mutations related to furin, an enzyme that “cuts” spike proteins, make this mutation particularly dangerous.

“The cutting process is crucial. It makes it easier for the virus to enter the cell and therefore spreads faster,” he said. “The spread of this variant is approximately twice that of other related variants.”

Science has been transformed into policy. In a televised speech on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a series of new restrictions, including a ban on all alcohol sales and gatherings, and an extension of the curfew from 9pm to 4am .

For Gumend, this step is not necessary. He said: “When the virus spreads uncontrollably, we have to take more stringent lockdown measures than necessary.” “They know that the Delta variant is spreading in India. They should ban flights from India to South Africa.”

Currently, Gauteng-home to the country’s financial center Johannesburg and its administrative capital, Pretoria-has been the center of the third wave of outbreaks, accounting for more than 60% of new cases. As of Monday, there were 81,399 active cases in the province.

At a press conference last week, Governor David Makhura said: “We are struggling. We are under tremendous pressure. The epidemic is everywhere.”

The situation in Johannesburg has particularly deteriorated after the 1,000-bed Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital was forced to close after a fire in April. But many people believe that the authorities are not entirely blameless.

“How prepared is the existing system in terms of ICU, oxygen, diagnosis and treatment?” Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, wrote on Twitter.

Some large medical institutions in Johannesburg, such as Nasrec Field Hospital and AngloGold Ashanti Hospital, are vacant. “There are many unemployed doctors and nurses,” Gumend said. “To me, the government is not ready at all, which seems absurd.”

Karim said that if there is still some debate about how South Africa became the worst-hit country on the African continent, then the way out of this crisis is clear.

“The reality is that vaccination is a vital part of trying to control the virus. We must combine vaccination with some of our public health precautions.”

Although Rama Pajosa has been one of the world’s leading voices calling for vaccine fairness and abandoning production patents, his government’s vaccination campaign has been slow. South Africa has received only 2.9 million doses of vaccine to date, despite a total of 7.4 million doses. Less than 5% of the population has received a single injection.

Critics of the government, including opposition parties, said that due to poor planning, the implementation of the plan has been slow. But in his speech on Sunday, Ramaphosa mentioned vaccine hesitation.

“There is still a lot of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine circulating. False stories about the COVID-19 vaccine on WhatsApp groups, social media, and through word of mouth are spreading, claiming that the vaccine is unsafe, making you sick or not Works,” the president said.

“I’ve said it before, and I want to say it again: Please think twice before pressing share or send,” he told the South African. “When we can’t afford it, you are spreading panic, fear and confusion.”

Nevertheless, the slow rollout still frustrated many people.

Celeste Bortz is a 59-year-old teacher from Johannesburg. For the past six weeks, her husband has been taking oxygen in the hospital.

“My husband is 61 years old and missed the start of a week’s vaccination plan. If the government had more control over the situation, things could have been much better,” she said.

“In general, I like Ramaphosa. Last year, he took the reins and quickly locked it. But I think the government could have better dealt with the third wave.”

A series of corruption scandals related to COVID-19 spending has also shaken public confidence in the government’s response to the pandemic.

In September 2020, a report (PDF) The Auditor General found “serious flaws” in the financial management of the government’s COVID-19 program-from the procurement of personal protective equipment to hospital beds to social relief grants.

Earlier this month, the Minister of Health Zweili Mkhz After signing a contract with Digital Vibes, he was arranged to take a full-pay “special leave”, Digital Vibes is a communications company hired by his former colleague. Investigation is ongoing.

Karim said that if according to the president, this third wave may be the longest, then it will certainly not be the last.

“We will see a more effective variant of Delta, and then we will continue to study the next one. It is basically human and virus and its variants. Currently, the virus is gaining the upper hand. It can be one step ahead of us.”

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