It is 6am and a queue of patients spanning half-a-block is lined up outside Discovery Clinic, a public health facility along Goldman Street near Florida in Johannesburg. New protocols put in place to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus means people had to enter the clinic in smaller groups after sanitising their hands. A line of cars snakes through the streets to gain access from the parking lot. Much like the anxiety-laden shopping sprees witnessed at shopping centres in more affluent parts of town, people in these lines are worried about how this coronavirus outbreak could restrict their access...
It is 6am and a queue of patients spanning half-a-block is lined up outside Discovery Clinic, a public health facility along Goldman Street near Florida in Johannesburg.

New protocols put in place to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus means people had to enter the clinic in smaller groups after sanitising their hands.

A line of cars snakes through the streets to gain access from the parking lot. Much like the anxiety-laden shopping sprees witnessed at shopping centres in more affluent parts of town, people in these lines are worried about how this coronavirus outbreak could restrict their access to essential goods and services.

Yesterday, taxi industry body Santaco sent this worrying tweet: “We are more worried. Only 10% of taxis will be operational. There’s at least 200k drivers, 100k queue marshals and 500 admin staff in associations who may not be salaried. Then you’ve the owners as well. What about hawkers who make money as a result of taxi rank operations?”

So, besides the threat to the livelihoods of economically vulnerable populations, for many people yesterday was the last chance they had for frequent and cheap transport to get to clinics, supermarkets and other essential service points.

At Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Westbury, day patients destined for the polyclinic were faced with longer queuing times if they arrived in a taxi or walked there, because pedestrians were led in a long queue to tents where they were sanitised and given access to the clinic in small groups.

Presumably, drivers would be allowed straight in because there were fewer of them. The hospital’s apparent vigilance in sticking to strict anti-infection protocols is commendable, but I can’t help but think that this and other public health facilities are about to be tested on an unprecedented level.

Already having to deal with a vulnerable community that may still need daily health services in the usual large droves, this time they are faced with the added risk of a new and unfamiliar illness that could damage the already fragile and overloaded local health systems in Joburg.

In 2018, nine infants died from a bacterial outbreak at the facility’s neonatal unit, a tragedy the hospital admitted fault for. But some health professionals will say this is one of the good ones.

At Tembisa Hospital, where 10 babies died last year due to a bacterial infection outbreak, government has placed a specialised Covid-19 treatment unit in a move which the Democratic Alliance has questioned, given overcrowding and recent staffing shortage concerns at the facility.

It is a source of comfort that so many organisations are stepping up to fill the gaps where the vulnerable are likely to fall through.

Church organisations, the banking sector and others donating millions towards providing sanitation and health services to the poor will come in handy if government falls short, as many are starting to fear.

Health services are facing their biggest test ever_1

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni.

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