Maverick Citizen

Living dangerously in Nelson Mandela Bay: 1,500 late-night revellers and not a single mask in sight

By Estelle Ellis 17 November 2020

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has complained that residents are out late at night and do not wear their masks, contributing to a sharp increase in cases in the city. (Photo: Donna van der Watt)

A chilling account of how officers from Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s metro police found 1,000 maskless late-night revellers crammed into a single party venue in the city, with another 500 outside, forms part of the report provided to the minister of health on the state of a massive coronavirus outbreak in the area.

In a 100-page presentation made to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, explaining the extent of a huge coronavirus outbreak in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, metro police officers related how they broke up a party of 1,500 revellers, none of whom were wearing masks.

The venue was among a number of drinking spots in the city that were closed down for not complying with Disaster Management Act regulations.

Coupled with reports on hospitals that are under extreme pressure, staff fatigue and concerns over casualty units being overrun by patients, Mkhize called for a report with statistics, so “that we can start talking about alcohol”.

Concluding his visit to the two big hospitals in the metro, Mkhize was full of praise for the renovations that had turned the basement parking at Livingstone Hospital into a 73-bed ward and the extensive work that transformed a derelict building at Dora Nginza Hospital into a 100-bed ward for patients waiting for their Covid-19 results.

Mkhize said that while there were more patients at the hospitals than in July and August, staff morale had been improved by the new wards and the fact that there are enough oxygen points and ventilators available now.

The provincial MEC for Health, Sindiswa Gomba, announced that Uitenhage-based vehicle manufacturer Volkswagen had donated R10-million to renovate the casualty unit at Dora Nginza Hospital. Last week the unit ran out of bed-space and could not take in any more patients.

Mkhize said he wanted to send out a strong message: “This pandemic can materialise into a full second wave with a strong surge if not taken seriously.” He said given the current number of infections there must be a lot of “superspreader events” around.

“The key issue is to avoid huge gatherings and big parties. This is the time for people to understand that we are going to run into difficulties. [If this isn’t brought under control now,] by December we will be in big trouble.”

In the report presented to Mkhize, metro police officers described how, earlier in November they went on an operation to monitor Covid-19 compliance at popular nighttime drinking spots.

Brown said he was very worried about upcoming parties in the city and there was already an increase in people at drinking spots as students conclude their exams. 

They closed down a number of drinking spots in Port Elizabeth, including Loxion Club, Posh Lounge, Moonlight Lounge, Captains Lounger, Destiny Lounge and Question Spot Bar, due to non-compliance. 

“Metro police officers responded to another club complaint at Valley Club and Gallery Nightclub. There was a big crowd outside and inside the establishments. There was overcrowding at Gallery Nightclub, on our arrival there were about 500 people outside; drinking and they were very noisy. It was young people between the ages 14 years and 23 years. Bottles were thrown on the ground for reasons unknown. 

“On further investigation we found that there were about 1,000 people inside the establishment with no masks on, no social distancing and the owners failed to produce the certificate of population on demand. A docket was opened at Humewood Police Station [for] contravention of the Disaster Management Act,” the report, shared by the head of the metro’s Disaster Management Forum, Shane Brown, read.

Brown told Mkhize that long lines at post offices around the city, with very little compliance, also caused great risk. Most of the people in line are trying to access the R350 Covid-19 grant.

Brown said he was very worried about upcoming parties in the city and there was already an increase in people at drinking spots as students conclude their exams. 

“And we have seen the ads going out for matric rave parties. The festive season is a major concern to us. If this virus cannot be stopped, we will have one that we would rather forget.

“The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was perfectly right about alcohol and cigarettes,” he added.

The report handed to Mkhize sketched a devastating picture of infections and deaths in the city.

On November 2 there were 167 active cases in the city. The following day this jumped to 543, the next few days saw consistent increases of between 400 and 500 cases a day and on 10 November the number of active cases jumped by another 840, followed by daily increases of between 600 and 700 and another jump of 837 on 14 November, which dropped to 437 on 15 November.

The metro, which includes Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch, on Tuesday 17 November had 4,324 active cases.

The district manager for Nelson Mandela Bay, Darlene de Vos, said there were 716 patients in hospital who had tested positive for the virus, 97 of whom were in intensive care units. She said four makeshift ICU beds were created at the field hospital, donated by Volkswagen, where there are now 275 patients. Another two ICU beds were also created at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital. Of those in ICU, 52 were on ventilators.

In the last week in the metro, 28 people died from Covid-19 on Monday, 23 on Tuesday, 18 on Wednesday, 30 on Thursday, 35 on Friday, 17 on Saturday and 26 on Sunday, De Vos said.

On November 11, public health officials had to monitor two funerals, the next day five and the next day nine.

According to the report, the South African Police Service had visited 404 licensed drinking establishments but found all to be complying with Covid-19 regulations.

“The report says no problems,” Mkhize said, “but a doctor showed me a picture of a well-known tavern in the city. “There were no masks. No distancing. It would be impossible not to catch Covid-19 if it is there.” 

He said the message to the taverns must be simple: Either comply or lose your licence. Mkhize added that if retailers allowed people without masks into their shops, they must be closed down. 

“The Disaster Management Act allows for us to be strong in the way we deal with this,” he said.

“During the surge, we had to deal with the issue of alcohol. If we have staff fatigue and overcrowding of casualty units, bring me the figures… we will look at it again.” 

Brown said that added to the strain on an already full Dora Nginza Hospital, the electricity network to the facility was vandalised this week, “taking out a large part of the hospital”.

“I will admit, I think we have been a little too nice about compliance,” he said.

De Vos said their main problems were that people did not adhere to social distancing and did not wear masks. “This includes health department staff.” She said they were worried about staff burnout, congestion at casualty units and resistance from unions to the implementation of plans.

Gomba said she had engaged Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s office on staffing concerns in the metro. “The ones who are working never had a break.” She said they will work on a report to make sure that staff numbers in the metro will be boosted.

The issue of staff shortages was first raised with the MEC in March and again in July. De Vos said there were 166 hospital staff members in isolation. DM/MC 

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  • Prior to Covid 19 most mask studies showed they did not work. Consequently the WHO initially did not recommend them. Without any new study showing differently mask mandates have become a new religion.

  • This is in response to Keith Saffy and any who are as misinformed as he is. Simply Google “Do masks work?” and you’ll get your answer as to the effectiveness of masks with several studies/articles backed by studies from different institutions across the world. The short answer is yes, they do help.

    • Tried Dr Google. Short answer is, No. Lots of “expert” opinions with minimal sound scientific backup. Lots of reversion to 2 hairdressers who didn’t infect anyone. Masks work in the health care setting work. Elsewhere, doubtful.

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