Day 104 – Tenuous tsunami parallels

Let’s make things clear right from the start here.

I’m not saying that Cape Town is going to get hit by a tsunami.
We’ve covered that concern here: something I would strongly advise you to read if you think that people are paranoid about Covid-19. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

They walk among us.

But I digress. Often.

One of the enduring images of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami was the drawback: the water disappearing from the shorelines of beaches and resorts about to be hit by the tsunami, effectively (some would say ‘exactly’) like a huge low tide.

In some places, this drawback was up to a kilometre. And in most cases, there was good correlation between the size of the drawback and the extent of the damage caused by the tsunami that followed.

If we ignore all scientific reason for a moment and apply this clear inverse proportionality to tomorrow’s predicted storm, I think we’re in trouble. Because today’s weather in Cape Town could not be calmer or more beautiful. So still. So clear. So utterly perfect.

Not a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind.

If only there were some term that one could use to describe such a period of placid weather ahead of a predicted tempest.

And yet… just out there in the bottom left corner:

A frothing mass of low pressure, general misery, howling winds and all the rain we didn’t get in 2017. All due to begin tomorrow afternoon/evening and then be followed in by a second front on Sunday into Monday.

And our eyes are already on another vicious lump of nastiness heading out of Uruguay towards SA like Luis Suarez’s poor sportsmanship and bad temper in 2010.

And possibly every bit as bitey.

But let’s just get through this weekend first. Here’s what we’re expecting to see at 0800 local time on Friday morning:

Big winds, much rain, huge waves, general unpleasantness.

In all seriousness though, it does look like quite a nasty one, so please look out for your community and maybe consider helping out your local shelter, which will obviously be under more pressure than usual over the next few days.

Day 103 – “Eventful” Thursday

I knew that there was a winter cold front coming through to Cape Town this week. I didn’t know it was a winter cold front like this though…

“The entire weather community in South Africa has eyes on the mammoth cold front developing in the South Atlantic. This system, arriving Thursday, promises to bring heavy rains and widespread snow to a great deal of SA and even Namibia if the system stays on track.
Our forecasts show this system is not only staying on course but is also strengthening substantially and should make for one of the most eventful winter weekend in Southern Africa in many years.”

Ooh.
And yes,that MASSIVE bank of white stuff off the coast of South America is heading our way.

And I’m not saying that it’s going to be big (although it is), but even Cape Agulhas Municipality decided to teach their residents about the basics so that they could be ready, with awesome lines such as this:

Descriptions: Snow
Snow is precipitation in the form of flakes of crystalline water ice that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material.

Amazing. Who knew?

I’ll be keeping an eye on this (the weather, not the description of snow) as it approaches and update again tomorrow.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay warm.

Day 102 – Virus FAQs

I’m still being asked a lot of questions about the virus situation here in SA. Microbiology is my passion and I’m happy to be asked, happy to answer. But maybe I can save us all some time and effort by answering some of the more commonly asked questions on here.

I’m not saying that this is the only way to do things, or necessarily even the best way of doing things: everyone will have their own approach and that’s fine. But this is the way we’re doing things, based on science, our knowledge and the changing situation around us. And yes, things are constantly changing, so it’s therefore reasonable to assume that our approach will change when required as well.

You’ll notice a common theme, one that I have eluded to many times before: it’s all just one risk individual assessment after another. Basically: how much do I need to do this and how much risk is there of me getting the virus from doing it?

Where you can, avoid risky situations: close proximity to others, indoor spaces – especially poorly ventilated indoor spaces and especially spending a prolonged length of time in those sorts of spaces. Apply that approach to your daily life (it’s really not as arduous as you might think) and generally you’ll end up doing things right.

Questions.

Are we in the clear in Cape Town now? 
No. We’re not. The focus over the last couple of weeks has definitely moved to Gauteng, but this isn’t a light switch. You don’t just flick one place on and another goes off (and actually, that’s not even how light switches work, is it?). The situation in Cape Town still awful and no, you shouldn’t let your guard down. Right now, wherever you are in the country, it’s safest to assume that the virus is everywhere and alter your behaviour accordingly.

Should I be wearing a mask?
Yes. Wearing a mask is cheap, easy and has huge benefits, especially for those around you in that it limits the distance that any virus you breathe out, can go. And sure, I know that you don’t have the virus, but science has shown that asymptomatic transmission (passing the virus on even though you don’t feel ill) is a huge factor in the spread of Covid-19.
There is no downside to wearing a mask.
The Disaster Regulations say you must wear a mask when you are in a public place. And good luck with getting into any private establishment (shops, restaurants etc) without wearing one.

Should I be shopping?
Not unless you need to. Certainly not for pleasure. Shops are generally indoor spaces and you really should be avoiding those wherever you can. If you can order online, do so. If you can’t, then get in and get out as quickly as possible. Groceries are one thing, but I promise that you really don’t need to get those shoes or buy that new vase right now. Do that quick mental assessment: the risk is likely the same for grocery shopping and shoe/vase shopping, but only one is necessary. See how easy this is?

Should I be going to bars and restaurants?
In my humble opinion: hell no. Just because these places are open for business, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go there. People with masks off (for eating and drinking), inside space, prolonged period of time, and often speaking loudly because of background noise/music. These are all high risk behaviours/situations. Put them all together and it’s a recipe for disaster. By all means support your local restaurants, but do it via delivery or pick-up.
Sit down meals are not a good idea right now. Sit down meals are actually a very bad idea right now.

Don’t we all?

And haircuts?
I would love to have a haircut. But again: just look at how you have a haircut: someone stands right next to you (right over you, even) in a small space for a good length of time. This is not a safe situation. This is an easy call. And it’s a strong no from me right now.

Cinemas, theatres and casinos?
No: Indoors. Proximity to other people. Prolonged duration of potential exposure. Ticking lots of those High Risk boxes and none of the Absolutely Necessary ones. Red flags everywhere.

Is meeting friends ok?
Difficult one. There’s more to life than physical health. Mental health is hugely important too, and we all require some degree of social contact to keep us sane. Zoom calls can only go so far to satisfy this need. So let’s put this in perspective: while not meeting friends poses zero risk of infection, meeting friends carefully, in controlled conditions: socially distanced, with masks on and OUTSIDE poses very limited risk of infection.

Here’s something else to factor into your quick risk assessment. It’s Dr Everett Koop’s quote:

When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the last ten years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last ten years.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have sex with your friends – that’s your call (and theirs, obviously). But with a little tweaking, that quote reads like this:

When you meet a friend, you are meeting everyone that they have met with for the last fourteen days, and everyone that they and their family have met in the last fourteen days.

How sensibly have your friends (and their families) been behaving?

Should I meet elderly/vulnerable friends or family? 
Hard no. As difficult as this may be, it’s going to be a whole lot more difficult when they contract the virus and get sick or die. No good can come of them spending time with anyone at the moment. Horrible situation, I agree. Nothing we can do about it. Sorry.

Any quick advice for me?
Wear a mask (limits risk of transmitting virus).
Wash your hands often (removes any virus from your hands before it can get inside you).
Stay at home as much as you possibly can (the virus can’t come to you – you must go to it).
Don’t go into indoor spaces with other people where you can possibly avoid it (this is a high risk activity).
Remember that time is important (the longer you stay in any risky situation, the more chance you have of being infected).

There you have it. I’ve avoided the thorny “Should my kids be going to school?” one, because there are just too many variables and too much emotional stuff there. That’s even more of an individual choice than anything else here.

As mentioned above, I’m not saying that these answers are right for everyone, but I believe that the thinking and the approach behind them is solid and is a good way for anyone to gauge whether you should be taking part in any given activity.

Stay home. Stay safe. Have a great day.

Day 100, part 2 – What we will see, what we won’t see.

I’m about to walk the beagle in the sunshine, but I did want to put this quick prediction out before tomorrow.

As described above, some pubs in England re-opened today. Some people thought that this was not a good idea, that it wasn’t the right time, that people would abuse the privilege.
Well, there’s never going to be a right time, and some people will abuse the privilege, and those are the images that we’ll see in the newspapers and all over social media this weekend.

None of this sort of thing, illegal until just this morning:

Because that doesn’t fit the narrative.

There’s already been condemnation that the Government allowed pubs “to open from 6am”. No-one cared to expand that they was because they told pubs that they couldn’t open at midnight.

If you don’t want to go to a pub, don’t go.
I’m not going to a pub.
You choose.

But it’s like:

Only by forcing people to make the right choice can we have freedom to make our own decisions.

But don’t tar everyone with the same brush.

Pub owners (already a dying breed) have worked hard and spent a lot of money getting their businesses ready for today. Please don’t join in with the rabble and undermine their efforts or their right to earn a living.

Day 100 – Searching for the silver lining

It’s 100 days since SA locked down. In that time, we’ve done the hard yards of Level 5, the only-ever-so-mildly-easier yards of Level 4* and then slipped into the sloppiness that is Level 3 (and then “Advanced Level 3” – which nobody quite understands).

Cigarette sales are still bizarrely banned, but other than that, life is going on pretty much as usual, albeit (mostly) with masks.
That and, oh yes, the virus being more prevalent and deadly than ever before.

Much has been made of England’s decision to reopen pubs and restaurants this week, but that’s an example of one of the “impossible” choices that Governments have had to make when balancing infection rates and jobs (in this case in the remnants of the hospitality industry). Those individuals whinging and whining on social media about how it’s “too soon” and “too dangerous” may have a point, but also clearly have no concerns about the close on a million jobs in pubs, restaurants and hotels in the South East of England alone. And yes, there will be spikes in infections as people start to interact more normally again, but we’re going to see spikes all over the world for (probably) years to come. We cannot wait for a the chance of a vaccine before we start to open our economies again.

In fact, South Africa didn’t even have the luxury of waiting until the infection rate began to level out. Our fragile economy meant that the lockdown had to be relaxed right as the virus started to take hold: a perfect storm of natural infection and enhanced movement and social interaction, all in one. Wonderful.

And it is still going to get (much) worse here before it starts to get any better.

It’s easy (and natural) to look at the past 100 days and see the despair, the disasters and the difficulties. It’s been a truly horrendous few months. And – perhaps because it’s such low-hanging fruit – everyone has done it. Regularly. Often. I are also guilty.

So, with 100 days chalked up on the cell wall, I wondered about looking for any positives that have come out of the situation. I’ll start by warning you that there aren’t many, but that doesn’t mean that they should be overlooked. There may be a lot of clouds, but some of them must have silver linings, right?

The enhanced sense of community is something that I have noticed. The acceptance that this situation is bigger than any of us, and that we need to work together to help one another. From friendly tips and offers to help on the local Whatsapp groups, through charities benefitting from people having more time to assist, to a greater appreciation of those services and individuals who have been working to keep things going – as much as has been possible – throughout.

Peace and quiet: fewer cars on the road and an overnight curfew meant that we could hear birdsong during the day and the Spotted Eagle Owls in the darkness. Caracals didn’t get killed on our roads, penguins took over Simonstown. Dolphins returned to Table Mountain.

THERE WERE NO TOURIST HELICOPTERS FLYING OVER MY HOUSE EVERY TEN MINUTES AND IT WAS GREAT!

Seriously, check the carbon footprint on that particular experience, guys.
And then stop it. Permanently.

Family time. Forced to spend time together, we… actually spent time together. We played games together, we exercised together (sometimes in the living room, sometimes in the garden, sometimes (when we were allowed) in the real world! We even spent (online) time with other families, doing stuff like quizzes and virtual evenings out.

We had to find new ways to work: restaurants did deliveries, supermarket apps upped their lousy game to be slightly less lousy, we supported local businesses and stores where we could. Not carrying your laptop to a different desk on the other side of the city each morning and then back again each evening became a thing. (Some) schools successfully managed to teach their students. Technological progress was fast-tracked and shaky, but (mostly) held together.

I understand that these positives don’t outweigh the huge negatives which the country has had to endure, and also that for many people, there has been no bright side at all. We’ve been lucky in that we have the means – and the space – to generally handle what this situation has thrown at us so far.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try look for the good bits of what has happened over this last 100 days: this whole state of affairs is overtly negative, and will quickly drag you down unless you cling to the occasional positive. So that’s what I’ve tried to do here.

I’ve decided that The Lockdown Diaries posts will continue for the moment – at least until life returns to normal. (lol!)

That might be a while yet, but together, somehow, I’m confident that we’ll make it.

 

* there was still no alcohol