What a time to be trying to stay alive

Jeremy Gordin on the resurgence of the Covid-19 epidemic in SA

Given that I am an anxious and elderly individual (1), I find it necessary to try before sleep to find something to sweeten the imagination, as Shakespeare’s King Lear puts it, thereby avoiding troubling dreams that might wake me.

On Wednesday evening I chanced upon a rerun of the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love, fell in love again with Shakespeare’s language and Gwyneth Paltrow, and went to sleep in reasonably fine fettle (2). But on Thursday at 04h45 I found myself tugged into consciousness.

Leaving dreams aside, I toddled off to the kitchen to test my blood glucose; I’m a type 2 diabetic (3). It was extraordinarily low, i.e., if I hadn’t, as it were, woken myself, I could have slipped gently into a hypoglycemic coma, which might have upset my gorgeous wife when she surfaced. I took the necessary steps (ate and drank), during which time I discovered there was no water at all in the taps (4).

What might I – and, I hope, readers – glean from the preceding 160 words?

(1) There’s a great deal of anxiety floating around during these days Covid-19, especially for older folk (like me). (2) Notwithstanding the presence of Harvey Weinstein (producer of Shakespeare in Love) and, say, Ace Magashule, there remain enjoyable things in the world. (3) Besides being prone occasionally to comas, we recall that diabetics are more at risk than others from Covid-19. (4) Douglas Gibson is right on the money: Jo’burg is shtupped straight up the macgoolagong and it’s not (btw) Helen Zille’s fault.

With these points in mind, I turn now not to the elephant in the room but to the virus that is (for now) just outside the room.

As alert readers would have noticed, I omitted to mention Thursday evening’s passionate appeal by minister of health Zweli Mkhize. He told us on national TV that South Africa had just been hit by the dreaded Second Wave of Covid-19 infection – and he appealed to all Seffricans to conduct themselves with restraint, especially over the so-called festive season.

Dr Mkhize was so exercised and upset that he, to my immense relief, kept his address relatively short. Some esteemed members of the fourth estate were then allowed to ask some questions – though the technology wasn’t working too well – and of course they asked whether there might be a return to stringent lockdowns.

Dr Mkhize kicked (not as neatly as Faf de Klerk) for touch. He replied that the president (that’s President Frogboiler, the er “consensus” builder), having conferred with the command council and/or whomever, and having heard what provincial premiers had to say, would in due course (date unspecified) address the nation.

The minister also told those of us who hadn’t been paying attention during the last few weeks why he was stressed. On December 9, SA had “breached 6 000 new cases” – the total new cases identified was 6 709.

Mkhize also noted that 135 deaths – higher than the norm of the past weeks – were reported on December 9, bringing the total of Covid-19 deaths to 22 574. I for one am inclined to go with the SA Medical Research Council’s report on “excess” natural deaths from 6 May-1 December 2020, which gives a total of 54 053.

The SAMRC’s calculations are based on the deaths recorded on the National Population Register, “scaled up to estimate the actual number of deaths by accounting for the people who are not on the population register and the under-registration of deaths. The estimated numbers are compared with the number that would be expected based on the historical data from 2018 and 2019”.

It stands to reason that some “natural deaths” are not attributable to Covid-19. But statistical observations by the SAMRC suggest “that a significant proportion of the current excess mortality being observed in South Africa is likely to be attributable to COVID-19”. Why Mkhize and many others choose to ignore these numbers, I cannot say, I just live here is all.

Mkhize also mentioned the now notorious super-spreader matric “Rage” event in Ballito Bay, which demonstrated that “in the last two days the age distribution of new cases showed a different pattern from the norm: the peak age in this period is in the 15-19 age group”.

The new “pattern,” he said, was thought to be due to large number of parties involving young people drinking alcohol, at which there was no adherence to the wearing of masks, social distancing and hand and surface sanitizing.

These “events,” he added, would spill over into the rest of the country as this age group is highly mobile and the majority of them are asymptomatic – i.e., the youngsters might not even know they were “ill” but would nonetheless pass Covid on to (for example) anxious, elderly diabetics who just want to watch movies and wash their hands, but can’t.

What’s going on? The Eastern Cape was a mess from the get-go, no surprises there. The Garden Route? Presumably, many people have travelled there, both residents (from Cape industries and farms) and tourists. For the rest, everyone – including especially the “government” but also the rest of us – took our feet off the pedal and thought Covid-19 was verby.

Hello? It’s not. It might not be gone for quite a while yet; and wait until our next winter in June 2021.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard many of the countervailing arguments, many from ostensibly “intelligent” people: in reality there’s no such thing as Covid-19, masks are just a silly story and ineffective to boot, Covid is just a story made up by the Dems to discredit the outgoing POTUS, it’s nowhere near as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, in fact Covid is just flu, etc. etc. ...

But do me (and you) a favour. Avoid places without ventilation, wash your hands, wear a mask, and avoid crowds in general. I see, by the way, that the US has just recorded more than 3 000 Covid deaths in a day for the first time, the new record being set two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday when US health experts warned Americans not to travel or gather.

Here, might there be a more stringent lockdown to try to combat the Second Wave? I doubt it – seems to me that even the fumblers in charge got such a fright at what they did to people’s business, etc., that not even they would try that again.

But they might do something equally silly as suggesting that everyone stay indoors again. Au contraire, everyone must be told to stay outdoors.

But what then about shebeens, pubs, indoor seating at restaurants? Well, that’s indoors – and brings us back to Mkhize’s plea to behave with restraint.

Trouble is that we Seffricans don’t do restraint – just not our forte – other than those sitting on the ANC NEC, who don’t like to rush in and hold Magashule accountable before he’s gone to sweet-talk the ANC’s so-called Integrity Commission.

What a time to be alive, as my son Jake would say. Or, rather, what a time to be trying to stay alive, as I say.