Too soon for Level 4

Zuko Mndayi, Litha Park, Khayelitsha

On Wednesday March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic and has since started marshalling countries in response to this global health crisis.

On Thursday March 5, South Africa recorded its first confirmed positive case of Covid-19 and as a precautionary measure, a nationwide lockdown was implemented from Friday March 27.

The lockdown was planned to curb the spread of the virus as it had infected 927 people.

Regulations were set, among those were the restriction of non-essential movement by members of the public and gathering of more than 50 people.

During the lockdown period, the exponential transmission was observed throughout the country but the statistics clearly painted a gloomy picture for the Western Cape.

As of Friday May 1, the province accounted for 42% of the total number of infections and 48% of Covid-19 deaths in the country.

The national stats placed the Western Cape as the epicenter of the virus, meaning residents are at greater risk than those in any other province.

While this does not absolve other provinces, it requires a behavioural change from residents of the Western Cape to avoid further transmissions and a different conversation about the virus in the province.

A relaxation of the restrictions was announced to commence on Friday May 1 and citizens were warned to not disregard their role in “flattening the curve”.

The gradual lifting of restrictions on economic and social activity was to be phased in.

This inevitably invited unintended consequences of increased chances of local transmissions, thus defeating the purpose of the lockdown particularly for the Western Cape that had already recorded the highest number of infections and the highest number of fatalities.

On the first day of level four of the Risk Adjusted Strategy, the country saw hundreds gathering at Sea Point promenade for a jog in the sunrise, among other public areas.

This prompted various reactions and generated a lot of social media hype.

Ordinarily, what the country saw that morning would have been a congregation of runners reconnecting with arguably the most preferred jogging environment, as the sun rises at the coastline.

Something we would typically be less concerned about.

However, in a world dealing with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and precisely the manner in which this virus gets transmitted, any gathering of large groups of people is astonishing and increases prospects of infections.

One does not need to be an expert to see that allowing public movement in the province will lead to the multiplication of the virus.

There is only one way to contain a virus such as Covid-19, one that is transmitted from human to human, that is to restrict human movement.

It is for this reason that I believe the Western Cape must remain on level five of the Risk Adjusted Strategy and intensify enforcement of the regulations to curb the infections.

While the Western Cape Government must be commended for the rigorous screening and testing, their role in responding to low levels of adherence to the lockdown regulations (both from companies and individuals) leaves a lot to be desired.

I am of the view that the reasoning which implies that the high infection rate in the province is due to the “rigorous screening and testing” is a misdiagnosis.

On the contrary, I am convinced that the infection rate is proportional to the adherence to the lockdown regulations.

It is shocking that, even after the provincial government identified retail stores and factories as sources of spiralling local transmissions, there’s no affirmation of its response to protect the workforce citizens of the province or consequences for companies responsible for more infections.

During the lockdown, local malls remained open with stampedes of shoppers and streets were scattered with members of the public with close to no enforcement of the lockdown regulations.

The Western Cape has recorded a consistent drastic increase with a daily average of 163 new Covid-19 cases for over 10 days.

This should be reason enough for the province to observe level five and avoid any further possible infections.

The restricted public movement needs to be accompanied by heightened enforcement of the regulations to ensure that infections are combated.

Moving to level four allows for more industries to operate, allowing more people to go to work and opening up more products that were previously restricted as non-essential.

This increases the likelihood of public movement, which is proportional to the risk of infections.

Zuko Mndayi is the South African Youth Council (SAYC) Western Cape Provincial Secretary and writes in his personal capacity.