Healthcare workers speak out about life during lockdown

By Christi Nortier 8 April 2020

Health workers conduct door-to-door community screening for Covid-19 in the Bo-Kaap district of Cape Town on Tuesday 7 April. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Things changed overnight in South Africa on 15 March, and it won’t be the last time it does. Daily Maverick’s Daily Digest will provide the essential bits of information about Covid-19 in South Africa and the world each day. Please do read on to understand these issues more deeply.

Last week, two doctors with Covid-19 were forced into quarantine in the isolation wards of the Modimolle Multi-Drug Resistant TB Hospital despite following all the self-isolating rules. The Limpopo health department decided that week to forcibly quarantine anyone with Covid-19. As Kerry Cullinan points out, this type of action hasn’t been taken anywhere else in the world.

Civil society organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) have said this sort of action infringes human rights and will discourage others from seeking testing, for fear of being hauled off to an unknown destination for an unspecified amount of time.

The doctors will hear today, 8 April, if their legal appeal against their forced quarantine has been successful.


Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape Department of Health has had to start discussions about which workers will be sent home if a potential shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes a crisis. As Estelle Ellis reports, all but essential staff might be sent home in an effort to have enough PPE to protect clinical staff.

Nurses have been saying for weeks that this is a countrywide problem. As Pauli van Wyk writes, it is difficult to get a concrete answer out of anyone as to how many kits South Africa has and how long the stock is predicted to last. However, unions and civil society are working tirelessly to ensure proper and sufficient equipment for healthcare workers. 

 Daily Maverick sat down with Gauteng MEC for Health Bandile Masuku, who still works regular shifts at clinics and hospitals and does not yield to a sense of crisis or even drama. (Video: Chanel Retief).

Personal protective equipment is not the only troubling thing on healthcare workers’ minds. Karin Schimke spoke to a paramedic about the emotional overload she has experienced since she and her crew had to pick up a woman who later tested positive for Covid-19. As the numbers increase, she worries about the health of her colleagues and her young family that she returns home to each night.

Because of this heightened fear and anxiety, mental health experts have already organised channels of support for healthcare workers. For instance, the Psychological Society of South Africa has created a Google form for those psychologists who would like to volunteer and it can be emailed by healthcare workers seeking support.

SA Express workers have spoken out anonymously about their fear and vulnerability in the face of the outbreak after the airline failed to pay salaries at the end of March. Even worse, the airline has not paid pension contributions, UIF, PAYE and medical aid contributions on behalf of workers since it was placed under business rescue. Ray Mahlaka explains how the airline is scrambling to try and keep things together.

The lockdown may have changed a lot of rules and responsibilities, but employees still have rights. This explainer sets out who counts as an essential services employee and who doesn’t, what their rights are and how the government is offering support.

Small-scale farmers in the poultry, livestock and vegetable sectors have been allocated financial assistance to the tune of R1.2-billion to bolster the sustainability of the food chain. There is still enough food for everyone, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural development Thoko Didiza reassured during the announcement.

However, the help comes with strict qualifying criteria and can only be applied for between April 8 and 22. Estelle Ellis spoke to food security experts and civil society about the threat of food insecurity during the lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that it is too early to comment on whether or not the lockdown will be extended, but comments made by Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe might indicate the government is weighing up its options.

Mantashe met with unions on Tuesday and asked their view on what might happen if the lockdown is extended. As Ed Stoddard writes, this suggests the government is gathering opinions about a possible lockdown extension.

France has extended a helping hand to South Africa. Ramaphosa and French President Emmanuel Macron have embarked on a campaign to win global support for a proposed plan to help Africa respond to the pandemic. The plan focuses on approaching international bodies for help in key areas such as healthcare capacity, economic support, humanitarian aid and scientific coordination. As Peter Fabricius writes, the plan is still in the pipeline but is apparently moving along swiftly. DM



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"Havoc and ruin had been around him all of his days, either impending on himself or dealt by him to others." ~ Winston Churchill