Pandemic causes panic

Victoria Hospital is restricting visiting hours.

Snaking queues of people spooked by Covid-19 materialised at Plumstead’s Lady Michaelis Hospital this week, with many in the lines claiming to have flu-like symptoms.

The usually busy facility is under even more pressure since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s televised address to the nation on Sunday when he declared a national disaster and outlined measures to contain the pandemic, including closing schools until after the Easter weekend; prohibiting gatherings of over 100 people; slapping a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries; cancelling visas for travellers from high-risk countries; and discouraging all non-essential domestic travel.

All travellers who entered the country from mid-February from high-risk areas must present themselves for testing.

On Wednesday March 18, South Africa had 116 coronavirus infections.

People are advised to get tested if they have a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever and have either been in contact with someone who has Covid-19; have travelled to a high-risk country; have worked in or been to a health-care facility treating people with Covid-19 or have a severe case of pneumonia with an unknown cause.

Many in the queue at Lady Michaelis on Monday said they had flu-like symptoms and feared they had Covid-19.

A Plumstead woman said masks had not been available at the hospital – which has a TB ward – when she had visited previously.

“If you go to Claremont clinic, you are given a mask at the door, but here they never have masks; they’re always finished.”

The woman said the masks would help patients feel safer. Many in the queue echoed her sentiments. They did not want to be named, saying they feared victimisation.

Marshall Hendricks, of Wynberg, complained that the facility was understaffed, and it took a long time for patients to get their folders. He fears it was likely to get much worse as Covid-19 tightened its grip.

Western Cape Department of Health spokeswoman Natalie Watlington, said patients at hospitals and clinics would be questioned to screen out those more likely to have Covid-19 – anyone with flu-like symptoms who has travelled overseas recently or had contact with a confirmed case.

“Although it now takes patients a little longer to enter the facility with the screening questionnaire, it is an important measure to protect them from possible Covid-19 infection.”

Patients who met the case definition for Covid-19 would be managed according to protocol and advised to isolate themselves at home – if they were not very ill.

Anyone suspecting they have Covid-19 should call the national hotline at 0800 029 999 or the provincial one at 021 928 4102 for advice on what to do.

Ms Watlington said Lady Michaelis staff used masks when treating patients with a possible infectious illness. Patients who might have Covid-19 could also expect to be asked to wear a mask while at the facility.

“Masks are not available for distribution to the public and you do not require to wear a mask if you are well. Western Cape Government Health has sufficient masks in stock to continue normal treatment protocol of patients in our facilities.”

Anyone aware of staff taking masks for personal use should tell the facility manager or report it to the contact centre at 0860 142 142.

“There are strict guidelines to ensure the safety of staff while assessing or treating patients who have or who are suspected of having Covid-19. These include using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE),” she said.

“We have ensured that staff have been correctly trained on the use of PPE and that we have sufficient stock of items,” said Ms Watlington.

Restrictions were also to be placed on hospital visits to limit the Covid-19 spread, she said.

The World Health Organisation advises people to wash their hands frequently; maintain social distancing; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you cough or sneeze; dispose of used tissues immediately; seek medical help if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing; and stay informed and follow advice given by health-care providers.