COVID-19: Emergency workers make their own protective equipment

The Western Cape Health Department says workers do have sufficient equipment.

COVID-19: Emergency workers make their own protective equipment

By Vincent Lali and Barbara Maregele for GroundUp

Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers in Khayelitsha resorted to using plastic sheets, duct tape and bed covers to protect themselves while transporting patients at the weekend.

When stocks of the right size suits ran out, one worker whose suit did not fit her had to close it with duct tape. EMS workers are demanding full protective suits to work in.

But Western Cape Health says workers have been given sufficient personal protective equipment.

As of 13:00 on 5 May, the Western Cape had recorded 2,610 confirmed active cases of COVID-19. Of these, 474 cases were recorded in Khayelitsha alone.


On Saturday, about 30 EMS workers based in Khayelitsha went on strike, demanding that they be given adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). The group resumed work on Monday after meeting with management to discuss their concerns.

“After every shift, I take off everything and spray myself. As soon as I get home, I shower and scrub myself before I touch my children because I’m so scared of giving them the virus,” says EMS worker Charlotte Clarke, who was one of the strikers.

She is an intermediate life support practitioner at Eastern Division, which services thousands of residents in Khayelitsha, Strand, Macassar, Somerset West, Gordons Bay and Sir Lowry’s Pass.

“Right now we use the face visor, mask, gloves and an apron. This is not enough. We need the A40 suit that gives full protection to do hospital transfers as well as suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. But we were told by management that we can’t use the A40 for home calls and suspected cases, that it’s only for confirmed cases,” said Clarke.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, EMS workers used the A40 suits only when transporting drug-resistant TB patients and there were enough to go round. “Then COVID-19 hit and we started wearing the suits more often. When we got a call, we would go to the base to put on the A40 suit, and go fetch the patient. This worked for a month then they realised the stock was running out.”

Clarke says last month she responded to a house call and, without a suit, says she was possibly exposed to the coronavirus.

“My ambulance was dispatched to a call that came through as a 20-year-old male patient. When we arrived at the house, it was a 13-month-old baby coughing with a temperature of above 38. I tried to explain to the mother how to take the child’s temperature. Eventually I took the child and did it myself because I could see he was struggling to breathe. I was wearing an apron, gloves, a mask and the visor, but our uniform is short-sleeved so my arms were exposed.”

“I watched as the child coughed and the sputum was all on my naked arm. I washed and sanitised my arm after the call and prayed to God that the child didn’t have COVID-19,” she says.


Clarke says her fear is that she is already infected and could possibly be infecting not just her family but the patients she assists daily.

“We are only getting screened now but not tested. I have been exposed so many times, I don’t know if I’m positive and just asymptomatic. I took it upon myself to get my own A40 suit,” she says.

“We need those suits. We just want to be safe. We want to prevent the spread. We are not asking for a lot.”

Nomveliso Matiwane, a shop steward at the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers shop steward, said paramedics did not feel safe with only masks, aprons and gloves. “Our protective gear is not adequate. The A40 suit covers the whole body.”.

But Deanna Bessick, spokesperson for Western Cape Health Department, told GroundUp that EMS staff’s PPE guidelines were based on the medical evidence.

Commenting on the strike by workers over the weekend, she said: “They refused to work unless the department adhered to their perceived ‘PPE’ demands. We had no option but to send the staff home for refusing to work.”

Bessick said: “The guidelines have been developed and published for all Western Cape health care workers and the department has also issued an EMS specific circular to offer additional direction to staff … The ambulances are disinfected after each call. Once the vehicle has been cleaned it is aired.”

Source : The South African More   

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Lockdown: Could these regions of South Africa enter Level 3 first?

The government remain open to letting some localised areas change their lockdown status ahead of others - so who's first in line for a switch to Level 3?

Lockdown: Could these regions of South Africa enter Level 3 first?

Let’s be real: Level 4 of lockdown isn’t all that different from Level 5. We can go for a run in the morning and get a takeaway delivered, but even then, we’ve got curfews and strict travel movements in place. When the country moves to Level 3, the differences should be more tangible – but will some get there before others?

Can some places move into a different level of lockdown before others?

According to government plans shared a week before we entered an ‘eased’ phase of restrictions, it was proposed that lockdown stages could be changed at a provincial or district level. This would mean that some parts of South Africa could advance their lockdown status before others:

“Because confirmed case numbers and rates of infection differ across the country, alert levels will be determined at the provincial, and in some cases, district level once a full nationwide [Level 5] lockdown ends.”

Office of the presidency, 24 April 2020

Any shift by a local region would have to get the approval of national government – the Western Cape, for example, is the only province run by the DA. The party generally have a more relaxed view of lockdown, but they would not be able to just go rogue and give the finger to national protocol.

Ramaphosa said at the end of April that there would be a scientific-based approach that local authorities could follow. We’ve double-checked, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t staged a press conference to make a last-minute change to this particular rule. So, legally speaking, any province or region that feels it is performing well enough to ease their restrictions could make a case to lighten their lockdown laws.

  • As per the latest amendment of the National Disaster Act, this system remains firmly in place:

“The Cabinet member responsible for cooperative governance and traditional affairs shall, upon the recommendation of the Cabinet, declare which of the following alert levels apply – and the extent to which they apply at a national, provincial, or district level:”

National Disaster Act, 1 May 2020

Who might move into Level 3 of lockdown first?

Judging by the latest disease figures, there are a few provinces that are showing very low case numbers and infection rates. The Northern Cape leads by example, with just 26 reported cases so far. North West has just 35 patients, and Limpopo has only recorded 40 of them (with two deaths). Mpumalanga actually has more cases than Limpopo (57) but, like the former two provinces, there hasn’t been a fatality to report.

These four provinces would be the first to argue they could ease restrictions and move in Level 3. But this comes with its own challenges: People may not feel safe if their lockdown is advanced before anyone else’s. Plus, it would make matters very complicated for border towns and intra-provincial travel laws.

You’d also have strange scenarios where some pockets have very little cases, but they are inside a larger area that is experiencing high infection rates. The Karoo region itself is relatively untroubled by this global health crisis, but its location in the Western Cape – which has the highest number of cases in SA – may hold it back.

Level 3 latest – which areas have been hit worst by the disease?

This brings us to the inverse – provinces where disease has spread quickly. Gauteng and KZN make up the top three, with more than 50 deaths and almost 3 000 registered cases between them. The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal previously mulled keeping eThekwini in Level 5 this week, before having a change of heart.

In times like these, it is often the biggest cities that harbour the most infections. Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria have all been flagged as ‘hot-spots’ for the disease. The Department of Health published a list last week, breaking down the most impacted provinces and their worst-hit regions:

Western Cape

  • Cape Winelands
  • Central Karoo
  • City of Cape Town
  • Garden Route
  • Overberg
  • West Coast


  • City of Johannesburg
  • City of Tshwane
  • Ekurhuleni
  • West Rand


  • Amajuba
  • eThekwini
  • iLembe
  • Harry Gwala
  • King Cetshwayo
  • Mgungundlovu
  • Ugu
  • Uthukela
  • Zululand

Will anyone take the (government-approved) gamble?

The government may have gone a little quiet on their risk-adjusted strategy, but the possibility of provincial and local governments fast-tracking themselves into Level 3 of lockdown remains.

Ironically, it is the sparsely-populated areas of South Africa that find themselves in the driving seat to restart their economic activities before anyone else. However, the situation still remains uncertain and for the next few weeks at least, it seems as if everyone is happier to ‘stick rather than twist’.

Source : The South African More   

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