The rest of South Africa was frothing at the mouth after photos emerged of a packed Sea Point promenade on the first day that outside exercise was allowed.
Social media users pointed fingers and implored the government to send us back to alert level 5, and there was much talk of ‘privilege’ of a certain hue.
Those surfer protests didn’t help that image, either.
The real reason behind why Cape Town has 10% of Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases is a little more complex, though, and our situation has attracted the attention of the Washington Post.
According to officials and experts they spoke with, the answer to how this happened appears to be two-pronged:
First, the city welcomed more tourists from hard-hit regions of the world than did other places in Africa, meaning the coronavirus was widely seeded here early. Second, major hot spots emerged in two supermarkets and a pharmaceutical factory that supercharged the virus’s spread.
“This is really about a small number of so-called super-spreader events,” said Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious-disease expert and chair of the government’s coronavirus task force. “Too many people were going to the supermarkets, and they didn’t have the right procedures early enough. It just takes one person, and everything in there is contaminated — the baskets, the metal surfaces — just by breathing.”
…“That’s how this virus spreads, through hot spots. It’s not like HIV, which goes slowly from person to person. A contaminated environment leads to an outbreak, plain and simple,” Karim said. “It’s a matter of identifying them as rapidly as possible. Sometimes it’s too late — you only see the flames when it’s a full fire.”
Worryingly, Karim added that our hotspot examples are likely to be repeated across the country, and the continent, as lockdown restrictions are eased.
That makes last night’s projection that as many as 48 000 South Africans could die of the coronavirus by November somewhat easier to understand.
Cape Town has drawn praise for its testing capacity, testing 1 211 people per 100 000 residents, which is by far the most per province:
The working-class areas of Tygerberg, which is mostly mixed-race, and Khayelitsha, which has an almost entirely black population, have been the hardest-hit and make up the majority of Cape Town’s cases. Some experts cautioned against jumping to conclusions based on that geography, given that testing is most aggressive in known hot spots, and say there may be areas where cases have been largely asymptomatic.
“The testing centers are very much linked to where the hot spots are,” said Marc Mendelson, who oversees the infectious-diseases division at the city’s Groote Schuur Hospital. “If you’re screening for symptoms and testing in hot spots, you’re going to pick up more” positive cases.
Targeted testing began in the province on April 7, and the number of positives as a proportion of tests has risen steadily since then.
As Mendelson points out, that can be attributed to effective targeted testing.
Still, the province has come under criticism for its early approach, with incoming flights allowed until close to the end of March, and airport testing was limited to temperature checks, which doesn’t pick up coronavirus cases that are asymptomatic.
Mendelson didn’t mince his words when talking about what is to come:
“It has been building in the last couple of weeks,” Mendelson said. “People say, ‘Are you ready for it?’ The answer is, as best we can, but it is going to get ugly.”
That it will.
I can’t wait for the Jozi folk to start posting pictures of them drinking and smoking cigarettes from June, when Gauteng will drop to alert level 3.
We can’t even hit back with pictures of us on the beach, or hiking Table Mountain, as the lockdown prohibits both.
Our time will come though, Jozi, so don’t be too smug about your newfound ‘freedom’.
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