In South Africa, the coronavirus is surging, hitting more than 500,000 cases on Saturday.
Gravediggers have been told to prepare dozens of graves as the number of COVID-19 deaths rises sharply. It was hoped Africa would be spared the worst, but the virus is spreading with ruthless efficiency — and over half of all cases on the continent are in South Africa.
Doctors at a hospital in Johannesburg are seeing a marked increase in critically ill patients. So much so, that they had to turn a pediatric ward into a high risk COVID unit.
Field hospitals have been set up to deal with the explosion of infections since lockdown restrictions were eased. Oxygen is the new currency of this pandemic — and it is in short supply.
“We’re very concerned, this is uncertain times…. we’re not sure as to how the health care system will be able to respond,” said Dr. Richard Cooke, a family healthcare specialist. “What’s critical is that we do everything we can, on a day-to-day basis, to be able to improve as quickly as we possibly can.”
But in the country’s poorest province of Eastern Cape, the health system is in meltdown. In one overwhelmed hospital, a security guard had to cover for medical staff as a patient was carried in. At Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, a shortage of beds means the sick are being turned away.
“It’s heartbreaking in the sense that you end up, yourself and your team, having to say no to somebody’s mother, somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s, father, somebody’s uncle,” said Dr. Tobisa Fodo, an intensive care physician.
Medical staff secretly took images of overflowing medical waste, rats feeding on blood-stained floors, broken equipment and a shortage of protective gear.
As more people continue to die in under-resourced hospitals, the number of ribbons tied outside a church continues to grow. Each ribbon represents a South African life claimed by the virus.
An early lockdown in South Africa saw a delayed spread of the coronavirus, but now it’s arrived in full force, with experts saying it’s only expected to peak in September.