Let us loot, vandalise and eat because tomorrow we shall die (from Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccination (Photo by FRANK MERIÑO from Pexels)
Photo by FRANK MERIÑO from Pexels

A hopeless nation is a dangerous nation. But a nation that craves for instant gratification at any cost is deadly. It’s like deliberately drinking from a poisoned chalice and continuing to live in oblivion, expecting to go unscathed.

The violent protests in the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provinces in South Africa caused some 208 incidents (52 in Gauteng and 156 in KZN) government reported in a televised media briefing. This included the looting, vandalism, and burning of individual shops, shopping malls, distribution trucks, and storage warehouses.

Trucking depots were also affected, disrupting food and medicine distribution chains. Within 48 hours of the unrest, affected hospitals were left without food for in-patients. Parents with babies on milk formula, especially infants with specific health conditions, were left wanting.

Oxygen supply to hospitals was affected, putting a strain on hospitals in the fight against Covid-19. Ventilators are used to physically pump oxygen to the lungs as a final attempt to try to save the lives of Covid-19 patients. The hospitals that were hardest hit in the two provinces resulted in temporary closure of some facilities and hospitals operating with skeleton staff.

The biggest losers in the unrest, from a health perspective, are the chronic patients suffering from HIV, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, to name a few, who had to go without their medication due to the rampant looting, vandalization, and closure of pharmacies.

Cipla, one of the main generic medicine manufacturers and chronic medicine suppliers, had its Durban factory looted leaving patients in KZN without medication. Patients with comorbidities, especially conditions that are not well controlled (likely to occur when patients do not have access to medication) are highly susceptible to serious illness in the event of Covid-19 infection and may require hospitalisation – placing further pressure on the healthcare system.

Pharmacies in township shopping malls provided healthcare convenience for many elderly people, including the community at large, as these were positioned either a walking distance or a short taxi ride away.

The next few weeks and months will inform us if the looted pharmacies reopen and continue serving those in historically disadvantaged areas.

We await to see whether pharmacies (and other businesses) within the townships and other affected areas will not transfer the costs of their loss onto the consumer.

Vaccination rollout disruption

As of 17 July 2021, a total of 5 076 330 vaccination doses had been administered, with 4.2% of the South African population fully vaccinated and 8.5% partially vaccinated (awaiting a second vaccine dose). At present, South Africa uses two vaccines, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which is a one-dose full vaccination shot, and Pfizer, which requires two doses for full efficacy. In excess of 1 682 811 people have been fully vaccinated with both the J&J and two doses of Pfizer.

Caption: Covid-19 vaccination as at 17:00, 17 July 2021 (Source: Ministry of Health)

South Africa, like its counterparts in the Southern African Development Community, are still lagging in their Covid-19 vaccination programmes, as compared to first world countries who, owing to their wealthy state, bought and hoarded much of the world’s vaccine supply.

The graphics below show a comparative view of where parts of the world are with their vaccination programmes:

Caption: Number of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (Source: Our World Data)

Caption: Share of the population fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (Source: Our World Data)

The violent protest resulted in the closure of some 106 Covid-19 vaccination sites in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal and further delayed the country’s vaccination rollout programme. Dis-Chem Pharmacies serve as vaccine sites as part of the National Department of Health’s strategy in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The group later announced that 15 of their pharmacies in KZN and parts of Gauteng would remain closed ‘until further notice.

Public and private vaccination sites (hospitals and pharmacies) that were unaffected by the protest remain operational and have continued with the vaccine rollout.

Among the medicines looted in the pharmacy outlets were Covid19 vaccines. Most of pharmaceutical stock or products are stored in warehouses and not at the pharmacy. Therefore, there is a high probability that only a small batch of vaccines that were prepared for the day were stolen. Nonetheless, hundreds, if not thousands of people were prevented from receiving this life-saving vaccination on time.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Non-adherence to the coronavirus health protocols during the unrest could lead to a prolonged pandemic, especially with the highly infectious Delta Covid-19 variant.

Prior to the unrest, Gauteng struggled with high Covid-19 infection rates and was placed on strict lockdown during Alert Level 4. According to the COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering, a research collective at the Johns Hopkins University, South Africa’s third wave  was on a downward trajectory when the unrest took place (see graph below). There is thus a likelihood that the efforts to reduce infections were reversed in the past week.

Caption: Graphic showing the Covid-19 infection rates and daily new cases in South Africa (Source: Johns Hopkins University)

The national statistics compiled by the Department of Health show that the total number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa as of 17 July 2021 were at 2,28 million, with 14 701 new cases representing a 29.1% positivity rate, added the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD).

The latest figures from the NICD show that Gauteng had 811 841 redundant positive cases and 6 357 new cases; while KZN had 374 932positive cases and 1 055 new cases, as of 17 July 2021.

As of 17th July, the death rate stood at 66 676.

Future outlook

Despite the mayhem, on 15 July 2021 vaccination registration for the 35- to 49-year-olds (35+ cohort) opened as per government’s plan. Many in the age group heeded the call. Within 24 hours of vaccine registrations opening, 1-million people had registered.

Caption: Covid-19 cumulative registration summary as at 17:00, 17 July 2021 (Source: Ministry of Health)

Vaccination rollout in the 35+ cohort will run concurrently with the over 50 and over 60 age groups. This, along with sites now being open at weekends, promises to ramp-up the vaccination programme. .

Healthcare is one of the fundamental determinants of economic growth and poverty reduction. Nevertheless, even though South Africa may vaccinate enough people to reach herd immunity, either later in the year or at the beginning of 2022 depending on the vaccine rollout, it will likely take the country years to recover from the past few days of destruction.

Till then, we keep hoping and praying that the criminality of the unrest does not increase Covid-19 fatalities.

(Copy editing and proofreading: Andrea Abbott; Blurb wordsmith: Helene van der Westhuizen )

Disclaimer: This is the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of SAFREA nor is it endorsed by SAFREA

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2 Responses

    1. Thank you, Helene! Appreciate our brainstorming session in selecting the appropriate words, given South Africa’s multilayered context.

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