Day 266 – None of it is good news

With bugs and diseases like TB or Measles or HIV, we don’t often learn much new significant stuff anymore. That’s mainly because we already know a lot of stuff about those bugs and diseases and so there’s less unknown stuff to learn. But it’s also there’s less research being concentrated into those bugs and diseases (which again is possibly because we already know so much about them).

SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 don’t fit that bill. They’re new, we’re (desperately) researching them in great detail and we’re learning new things every day.

Seemingly, none of it is good news.

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that the governments dealing with Covid-19 often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. There are no easy answers here: what might work well in one place won’t necessarily work well somewhere else. Countries are different; their economies, cultures, populations and population densities are different. And this is all new.
There is no one right way to deal with this pandemic. Equally, something is going to have to give: you sacrifice lives or the economy, depending on how you choose trying to manage the pandemic in any given place. And while that might seem like a no-brainer at first, sacrificing the economy will also cost lives in some form or other. It’s important to understand that it’s not a zero-sum game and it’s also important to remember that this is a virus that is going to kill some people.
Sad and blunt, but true. If you are criticising those in charge because of each and every death – devastating as each one is – you’re simply being obtuse.

That’s not to say that this couldn’t have been better managed. Of course it could and hopefully, if this ever happens again, we will have learned from the mistakes that were made this time around. Some of which were unavoidable, and some of which, well…

…seem inexcusable.

Sweden, once lauded for its “softly softly” approach to dealing with Covid-19, is back under the spotlight, and for all the wrong reasons. While it was being lauded in the early part of the pandemic for taking a different path, by July, it was already clear that it hadn’t worked:

The pay off was meant to be apparent when the second wave came around: with so many infections, would there be a degree of herd immunity and a much lighter caseload?


And suddenly, those claiming that Sweden’s approach was the way to go:

have seemingly quietly moved on to other nonsense.

While those who are usually very quiet about… well… everything, have chosen to speak out at just how badly the government there have handled the pandemic:

Again, I’m not blaming any government for their stance on dealing with Covid-19. But I feel strongly that it’s important that those who supported Sweden’s approach and insisted that it was working when all the figures showed us otherwise, shouldn’t now be allowed to just brush their mistakes under the carpet and try to advise us on how we should be dealing with the situation in which we find ourselves.

Our hospitals are full and according to some reports, some difficult decisions are now having to be made on criteria for admission to ICU beds. At times of stress and overcrowding, these decisions often have to be made, but if the cutoff age that I have seen quoted (38) is correct, then we are clearly in a very, very dire situation. And of course, that’s not just for Covid-19 cases. If you are involved in a car accident today in Cape Town and you need an ICU bed, well, that’s probably not going to happen.

Across the pond, new evidence has come to light that yes, while death from Covid-19 is predominantly amongst the older population, that’s not an exclusive club:

Young adults are dying at historic rates. In research published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we found that among U.S. adults ages 25 to 44, from March through the end of July, there were almost 12,000 more deaths than were expected based on historical norms.

In fact, July appears to have been the deadliest month among this age group in modern American history. Over the past 20 years, an average of 11,000 young American adults died each July. This year that number swelled to over 16,000.

It’s a lot of young lives lost. And the tragic thing is that so many of those deaths will have been avoidable. Simple steps like wearing a mask, washing your hands regularly, avoiding close contact and crowded or indoor spaces can hugely reduce your risk of contracting or spreading SARS-CoV-2.

But all that has been said until we’re blue in the face (from frustration and exertion, rather than inadequate oxygen saturation) and yet still not many people seem to think it applies to them.

I could understand that as we started this journey, it all seemed so surreal. But what I don’t quite get is how people can still think that this is a problem for someone else. I’ve often mused over what it will take for these people to realise that it might affect them too. Sadly (or weirdly, maybe thankfully?) the second wave of infections seems to be hitting a lot closer to home for a lot of people – I personally know at least 20 people affected in the last week alone – and maybe that will be a bit of a reality check.

As I mentioned yesterday, we’re going to just hunker down for the next few weeks. If you’re reading this in SA and you are also lucky enough to have the option to do the same, I’d strongly advise it.

Day 254 – Surrounded

One of the last things that happened before the kids left school yesterday (see tomorrow’s post for more on that) was the news that one of them had a close contact in their class for Covid-19.

A lovely final kick in the nether regions from the 2020 school year.

But it does seem that this time around (even though we’re told by certain people that ‘tHeRe Is nO sEcOnD wAvE!’) the near misses are already nearer and more numerous than first time SA encountered Coronavirus earlier in the year.

While clearly sad and potentially rather scary, this is also a Good Thing. Too many people have been living under the pretence that Covid is something that only happens to other people and that they are magically immune to the virus. But although we’re only at the beginning of this next anticipated peak, it somehow feels closer to home. Only now is it starting to hit home that actually, there are people in their office or at their school, a friend or a neighbour that have been infected.

And unfortunately, not all the stories have happy endings.

I have watched the change in attitude in (some of) the skeptics that I know. It might all be a bit late, but there’s really no harm in modifying your behaviour, even if that switch only happens now. It might prevent you being infected or infecting someone else tomorrow.

It’s a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth. It’s washing your hands. It’s avoiding crowds and confined spaces. And sure: maybe even that doesn’t guarantee you total protection, but it gives you – and those around you – a much better chance.

Have we avoided it this time around? Watch this space, I guess.

Day 245, part 2 – More Covid things that won’t work

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde is asking the local public to just follow some very simple guidelines and rules:

The virus is not gone but will be with us over the holidays and beyond. Therefore, we need to remain safe and protect each other…

…in order to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

That plan that clearly won’t work because no-one ever follows the rules in South Africa.

But then we bring you news from The Homeland, where the government is asking people to:

use their common sense

…when planning family gatherings and Christmas parties.

And that plan that clearly won’t work because no-one in the UK has any common sense.


People (sometimes rightly) complain when a government steps in with draconian rules and regulations, but if we’re absolutely honest, when things are left up to the general public, it’s almost always utterly crap and if that happens with this second wave, it’s going to result in a massive disaster both here and there.

Day 245 – Winde’s Warning

I mentioned some time ago on here that we were likely to see another peak in Covid-19 numbers sometime soon.

And so our next peak – should it not all go off in the next few weeks from PE – will likely be in January. Because people are not going to behave themselves sensibly over the holiday period.

Yes, there was always a hope that this wouldn’t be until early next year, but it now seems clear that is not going to be the case. Western Cape Premier Alan Winde last night issued a warning of “an established COVID-19 resurgence in the Western Cape”, based on the latest figures. And there were some scary numbers in there:

A resurgence is when the number of active cases increase, week-on-week, by more than 20%. Over the last week alone, the province has witnessed a 52.1% jump in new cases.

I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you that that’s a little more than 20%.

Last week, we issued a hotspot alert for the Garden Route, following an alarming growth of cases in the area. This surge has continued to gain momentum and there are now more active cases in George and Knysna sub-districts than at any point in the pandemic to date.

Just in time for the beginning of the school holidays and the annual trip down to Plett. Probably safer just to stay at home.

The City of Cape Town is following a similar trajectory to this region and looks to be about 10-14 days behind.

Or… er… not.

…since the start of November, COVID-19 hospitalisations across the province have increased by 63%. Critical care admissions have increased by 75% since the start of November. This is particularly concerning as an admission to a critical care unit is an indication of severe illness that might lead to death.

This is worrying, especially for a virus that iS jUsT LiKe ThE fLu! And we’re only just starting again.

And then the truth bomb:

We also cannot afford a lockdown again, as is being witnessed in many European countries right now. Our economy simply cannot afford it. A lockdown would kill jobs and cause our humanitarian disaster to worsen. This will also cost lives in the future.

And he’s right: it’s surely just not possible. We were on our knees economically BTV, we’re in a far worse position now, and a further escalation of the lockdown would be utterly catastrophic.

As, some might argue, would be no further escalation of the lockdown.

We’re right back walking that tightrope and knowing that whichever way we fall, the consequences are not going to be pretty. But even staying on the rope isn’t going to help.

The sad fact is that Alan – and the rest of us – are now solely reliant on the actions of the general public to prevent this spiralling completely out of control. And the general public have already shown themselves to be completely useless at taking any sort of prevention measures. If anything, when you look around, you see fewer people with masks on, fewer people with masks on properly, fewer people even taking masks out with them: people think that we’re done with Covid.
We’re not done yet. Not by a long way.

And so I’ll put Alan’s plea to us all on here, fully aware (as I’m sure he was when writing it) that it will be ignored by the vast majority of people and that we’re not even delaying – let alone preventing – the apparently inevitable second wave.

The virus is not gone but will be with us over the holidays and beyond. Therefore, we need to remain safe and protect each other by:
– Wearing a mask properly is of life-saving importance. You must wear your masks at all times when outside of your home. There can be no exceptions.
– You must avoid crowded and confined spaces at all costs. This is where super-spreader events take place.
– You must urgently reconsider hosting all non-essential gatherings of people this year, especially indoor gatherings with poor ventilation.
– You must ensure there is good ventilation at all times whenever you’re in public. The virus droplets spread by air in confined spaces, and so fresher is better.
– You must wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use sanitiser.
– If you feel sick, you should not leave your home unless it is to get healthcare treatment. You must first call our hotline on 080 928 4102 for guidance on the next steps.
– You should also not visit someone who is sick, and find other ways to provide support, like delivering a meal to a neighbour’s doorstep.

And then that last line:

Every single resident should assume that COVID-19 is everywhere they go and take all the necessary precautions at every point along their journey.

This is exactly how we look after ourselves in a microbiology lab. It’s a policy that has meant that I have had exactly zero Laboratory Acquired Infections in 25+ years of lab work, despite playing with literally billions and billions of bacteria and viruses each and every day.

If you follow those guidelines above; if you treat everything as being a potential source of Covid-19 for the next couple of months and behave accordingly, you have every chance of being safe.
If you teach your family to do the same too: they have every chance of being safe.

The more people and families that do this, the greater the effect.

And I know I’m shouting into the void, but these really are simple, straightforward steps to take. There’s nothing difficult or taxing here. Just common sense. It costs nothing, and it’s proven to protect you and your loved ones. And absolute no-brainer.

I’m every bit as tired of Coronavirus as you are, and I like germs. This festive season is going to be really crap for a lot of people, including us down here in SA. But there is an end in sight if we can just pull through the next few months.

Please, let’s not fuck this up.

Day 200 – Some lockdown thoughts

Compare and contrast my Day 200 thoughts with my Day 1 thoughts by reading here.
And… er… then reading here as well:


It’s Day 200 of the lockdown in South Africa.

Not that you’d really know that we’re in a lockdown. The measures now are so very lax that it’s hard to distinguish anything from normal BTV life.

I’m not allowed out of the house between midnight and 3am and I can’t buy alcohol to take away on the weekends. Other than those two bizarre rules, there really is nothing else directly affecting me. I’m not sure how either of those limits the transmission of the coronavirus in any material way.

Tourism, however, continues to be roundly buggered. No visitors allowed from the UK* or the US (and a whole handful of other countries) and suddenly that’s a good three-quarters of our local business shafted. The Waterfront, Robben Island and other tourist sites have been rapidly and happily re-de-colonised by the locals, but we don’t have the numbers or the spending power to make up the international shortfall.

And no matter how welcome the peace and quiet, it’s difficult to enjoy it when you know how people are struggling because of the situation.

Perhaps it’s the lack of rules now that means that people feel the local version of the pandemic is over. It’s very much not, and they are exacerbating that exact issue by behaving as if it is. Currently, for example, hundreds of schoolchildren at several local, private privileged schools are in quarantine after an inadvertent “superspreader” party at a local nightclub.

It’s difficult to comprehend just how blasé and how stupid you would have to be to think that chucking a couple of hundred kids into a poorly ventilated, confined space with loud music (meaning that they have to raise their voices and get even closer together to talk) is an ok thing to do at the moment.

But then you only have to look at the people still wearing their masks around their chins or around their wrists to see just the calibre of person we’re dealing with.

And of course, most of those kids will be absolutely fine. Completely asymptomatic, even.
It’s just their grandparents that will kick the bucket in a couple of weeks after the family lunch on Sunday.

Hell of a party though, I believe. Did you hear that Tarquin and Ashley finally hooked up?
So probably all worth it, right? Unless you’re Tarquin’s gran.

I’ve said before that while we’re fortunate in having a seasonal advantage over the Northern hemisphere with regards to the timing of the pandemic, we still really need to be mindful about what’s going on. This isn’t over – no matter how it sometimes feels – but we do still have the option to limit the spread of any second wave. It only requires people to just think before they act and to not put themselves in high risk situations.

But therein clearly lies the problem.



* although weirdly, BA59 still arrives from Heathrow every morning at 10 past 10…