Second wave exposed government neglect

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After a three month decline in infections and deaths due to COVID-19 between September and early November 2020, a second wave of rising infections and deaths began from mid-November 2020. As we move into the middle of February we are still in the middle of this second wave infections and deaths are still much higher than they were in the end of August to mid-November period. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to the first week of February, the government claims that deaths due to COVID-19 were just over 46 800.

Many COVID-19 deaths and infections go unreported by the government. The Medical Research Council’s reports say that since March 2020 to mid-Feb 2021 more than 137 700 people died, and these deaths gives us a truer sense of COVID-19 deaths. In townships around South Africa, many community members are turned away from clinics when they want to be tested due to lack of testing kits. Although the private hospitals only cover under 20% of the population, they still test more people than government hospitals that are supposed to cover the other 80%.

As with the first wave of the pandemic, the second wave caught the South African government unprepared, exposing its ongoing negligence in the way it has approached the pandemic. From the period of the decline in infections and deaths from the end of August to mid-November, the government did not use the opportunity to build more capacity to fight the pandemic. No additional testing capacity was built, field hospitals were dismantled even before they could become properly equipped and operational. No additional medical staff was employed or put on standby.

Instead of preparing for a second wave that everybody knew was going to come, the government prepared the ground for a more deadly second wave. This second and deadly wave was a result of the failure to test and trace people with COVID-19, and the failure to prepare different aspects of the health system to cope better with a COVID-19 surge. The action that prepared for the deadly wave the most was the opening up of workplaces, schools, entertainment places, and relaxing COVID-19 measures in public transport such as taxis. The government also no longer required workplaces and schools, and other spaces that intensify the spread of COVID-19 to take measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic. In fact, although the second wave infections and deaths began rising in mid-November, the government did not change its Level 1 restrictions until the end of December – about six weeks later. In that time, more than 20 thousand people lost their lives.

The neglect that the government has shown in dealing with COVID-19 is because of the pressure from the capitalists and their supporters. Schools had to open so private schools could continue to make their profits; any pressure on employers to spend money to make their workplaces safe had to be removed so corporates can make profits. Lastly, huge pressure was put on the government by various capitalists and their agencies not to spend money that would have slowed the spread of the virus and deaths, like spending more funds on the health system, so that taxes would not have to rise and profits fall.

This failure to prepare for the surge in infections and deaths led to many people taking their fate into their own hands. Unlike in the first wave, as deaths rose people looked for their own remedies to COVID-19. As a result there has been major public discussion on remedies, and people have made it clear that they will not wait on the government to find medical remedies while they are dying. The public discussions on Ivermectin, and the use of the medicine by many even without approval by the government regulators was a vote of no confidence in the government. People were making clear that they do not trust this government.

The arrival of vaccines into the global market has further exposed the government’s neglect and its failure to prepare for the second and even third wave. The government scrambled to get vaccines after a major outcry from the media and pressure groups, and when it got these vaccines the chaos due to lack of planning was revealed. The most dangerous outcome of this history of neglect in dealing with the pandemic has been the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 virus.

This article was submitted on 11 February 2021. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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