Bio: Hendrik Martin, 55 year old male, divorced with two daughters, eleven and fourteen.

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa.

Occupation: Radio journalist.


The latest regulations on the national lockdown in South Africa directs me to include a link to the Covid-19 portal of Department of Health on my landing page. So here's the link: S A Coronavirus.

But there's another portal with detailed information - that's the Wits University dashboard on Covid-19.

I've been watching the progress of this pandemic since January. At first it seemed to be confined to Wuhan in China.

But then it started spreading to many other countries in the world. So this a blog to track how things develop from my own personal perspective, and how it affects my life and that of the community.

Saturday, 28 March 2020:

Cases: 1170
Sadly, one death recorded.
But, good news: 31 patients recovered, a big jump from the previous total of 4.

The death shook me. Somehow, I had believed in the fairy tale that perhaps we South Africans are science-defyingly immune; that we will simply suffer through this with a mild cold and recover. Perhaps we'll "get this" before anybody really gets hurt. Until now we could joke and say, Keep Calm, Don't Panic. But now it is personal.

Two of my colleagues - within the greater organisation I work for - have tested positive for Covid-19.

Some important news I have gathered on my own, although I am on leave at the moment: the Department of Heath has applied to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (the equivalent of the American FDA) to have chloroquine sulphate approved for use against Covid-19. Approval was granted. At the same time the pharmaceutical company Austell was given permission to donate 500 000 chloroquine tablets to the DOH. So we will see where this goes.

I've been busy preparing for the 21 days lock down the government announced at the beginning of the week. The lock down started yesterday (Friday) morning, just after midnight. Of course, most people seem to be adhering to the regulations, which in some cases are draconic: yes, you may go shopping for essentials; or go to work if you are exempted (I had to get accreditation ("papers") on Thursday to allow me to go to my place of work); but NO walking the dog, cycling, jogging, even if you do this on your own. Some products will be expressly forbidden, and not sold during the next three weeks: alcohol and tobacco among them. Not even where it is sold in-store. Given my countrymen's propensity for the sinful consumption of these substances, I see trouble ahead, least of all people eventually overdosing on hand sanitiser. Already, yesterday morning, there were minor riots by people who wanted to go to work (strictly forbidden); or wanted to catch a minibus taxi (max capacity 14 passengers, now only seven) to go shopping. The police and military was there to force people to go back home. Which raises the question of civil liberties; but let's leave that aside for the moment.

Let me just say that the deployment of the army is a thing on its own; we have not seen this on this scale since the end of apartheid. (But they were deployed on the Cape Flats last year to combat the criminal gangs active there.)

The actions of the shack-dwellers are entirely understandable. To eat, you need to work. Most of these people live in informal settlements, shantytowns really, built with timber and corrugated iron. Most households are poor, and are under-serviced regarding water (one cold-water tap for every 20 households). So there's no washing of hands every 15 minutes, no fancy middle-class sanitiser. People live on top of each other, with perhaps less than a metre between shacks.

So the great fear is that if the virus starts spreading in those areas; you may see thousands more cases being reported.

The second thing is the prevalence of TB and HIV in these communities...

So my own first two days turned out to be a bit of a depressing time. I did some gardening this morning; just to get the blood flowing and provide a change of scenery and routine. And while Saturday mornings in this city are usually surrendered to the buzz of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers, today was eerily quiet and the buzz of my own hedge trimmer rent the silence and bewildered the birds. Something that has also been absent these past few days is the drone of traffic.

And perhaps it is only my imagination, but does the air smell cleaner, fresher, the mornings crisper?

I also phoned my sister today, just to find out how she's doing. The fact is I haven't spoken to her in many months, due to life and all the challenges it poses, but I just needed to know if she's OK.

Final note for the day: I find myself talking to my animals (more than four cats living here). They haven't responded in spoken language yet, but that may change as the days drag by.

Monday, 23 March 2020:

Cases: 402

Quite a jump! But look at the total number of cases that have been tested: 12815. The day before, the number of tests were 9315. So, 3500 more than the day before (1900). So this could still be good news.

Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation only tonight, and will probably release the latest figures at that time. In the mean time I have been reading up on the thinking in the scientific world on how to deal with the pandemic.

Basically the thinking is to suppress its expansion as hard as possible, as soon as possible. This lessens the impact on health systems, in other words it spreads the crisis out over time so systems aren't overwhelmed. It also buys time to develop a treatment in the short term or vaccine in the longer. But in the end, and this is a chilling thought, up to 70% of the population will get it. That way, herd immunity will eventually be established, as more people recover from the disease and develop some kind of immunity.

If this is successful, life can slowly return to normal, say in a few weeks time. At that time, enough service and health personnel and a sizable section general population may have recovered from the disease to support the social fabric while others get ill. And so on. Phew, I hope I got that right. Biology was never my strongest subject.

Sunday, 22 March 2020:

Cases: 274

This means there's been an increase of 34 cases over the previous day (38). Total number of tests performed increased from 7425 to 9315. I know there's a bit of panic among people over yet another increase in the number of cases; but I take this as good news. New cases have dropped off for the second day running, so we're not seeing exponential growth anymore. There may be other factors for this, however. Maybe medical authorities are testing the wrong people in the wrong areas, I don't know.

Anyway, Ramaphosa met with various stakeholders today, such as the smaller political parties, business leaders and finally the National Command Council. Everyone again emphasised social distancing and adhering to the regulations. We expected him to address the nation afterwards, but we were told last night that the meeting with the NCC was taking too long and he would only address the nation on Monday.

On Monday morning he wrote the following in his weekly newsletter:

"The manner in which all South Africans have taken charge of not just their own personal health but the health of those around them has been exemplary and heartening. Everywhere we see signs of behavioural change as the nation rallies behind infection control measures."
My own mood swings from optmism to despair.

Saturday, 21 March 2020 (Human Rights Day):

Cases: 240

No deaths yet. Over yesterday's rise of 52 new cases, today's figure of 38 is heartening news. Yet, it may simply mean testing has slacked down. On the other hand, 6438 people were tested on 19 March, and 7425 yesterday. What does this mean? Patient zero has been discharged having tested negative; same with his wife. They had been to Italy together. Not sure what the condition of the other patients are. I read somewhere one was critical, a few others under observation in the hospital, and the rest recovering at home in quarantine.

I videocalled the children on Whatsapp today. Took a while to figure out how to put all three of us on one call, but it turned out to be a cinch, except for latency. It was a test call only, to see how it works. If this carries on much longer, this is the kind of communication I will have to rely on.

I personally still show no symptoms, not that I expect to. However, my health hasn't been tip-top, and I had a mild flu about a month ago.

One good thing I am beginning to see: courtesy and friendliness among random people in public. Even motorists seem to be a bit more courteous in their attitude. South Africa is known for its road rage. Our neighbourhood (Westdene) is also very quiet with few people on the streets. I know many people in my street already work from home, so social distance may be not too much of a problem. Few reports of crime. Last night I heard crickets for the first time in ages.

Friday, 20 March 2020:

Cases: 202

There has been an increase of 52 cases in South Africa. A bit of a shocker. Where will it end? Quick visit to the Spar, and afterwards, more reading social media.

At least with brief shopping trips allowed, I can maintain a fairly healthy and varied diet. I am not geared to stock up on months of supplies like so many others with big 4x4 bakkies. I shop almost daily, but then only what I need right now. Otherwise things in the fridge go off.

I started working in the garden, trimming branches on overgrown trees.

Thursday, 19 March 2020:

Cases: 150

Continuing my self-isolation with just a brief trip to the Spar, and filling up with petrol. I have been reading up on possible cures and vaccines. Talk of chloroquine as a possible treatment resurfaces as "fake news", but it soon becomes clear there may be something in it. Bayer donates one million chloroquine tablets to the USA. (Wtf?) I bought some Indian Tonic Water. As a malarial treatment, I know chloroquine well from my days in the army and my travels in Africa. It has a bitter taste which stays in your mouth the whole day. The corporal used to grind it down and pour the powder in your mouth, to ensure you don't spit it out. I drink the Indian Tonic, and feel ill afterwards.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020:

Cases: 116

First case of local transmission recorded. Went to the local Spar this morning, fairly quiet, and I was able to avoid people. Hand sanitiser all the way. When I got home, I started experimenting with this thing of voluntary quarantine. I went online and read whatever I could about how people everywhere were handling it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020:

Cases: 85

Saw the children (two girls, 11 and 14) today for the last time. I had no plan to take them out, but when my eldest argued that it will probably be the last chance we will have before the pandemic really bites, I relented. We went to Starbucks in Rosebank, did some window shopping, grocery shopping and went home. All the time we were social distancing, cleaning hands with sanitiser before and after visiting every shop. At first we even wore masks, but it became obvious that this would not be necessary, because of the few people we saw. It was very quiet.

Monday, 16 March 2020:

Cases: 62

Because I have seen this thing coming since the first case in South Africa was announced on 5 March, I had already bought some hand sanitiser on Saturday. Of course, it was hard to come by but I fortunately found some at a paint shop. Yes, they have connections in the chemical industry. Today, Monday, I went out to complete a number of emergency purchases, including masks. Pharmacies had told me for days now that they were sold out. Eventually found some dust masks after checking five hardware shops. But I was bowled over when I arrived at Makro, a wholesaler. The shop, as big as a warehouse, was full of shoppers, some even with trains of trolleys, buying groceries (like toilet paper) in bulk. I just turned around and left in disgust. Of course, today there was no chance of keeping a social distance, although I tried. But I am on leave at the moment which gives me the option of avoiding social contact.

Sunday, 15 March 2020:

Cases: 51

On this day, our head of state president Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation after the first cases of CoVid-19 were tested in South Africa. (The first was announced on 5 March.) Some measures were immediately introduced, which would be expanded as the week dragged on. These include the closing of all public schools, universities, all places where people tend to congregate. A curfew on bars, restaurants and clubs. Shops remain open as a necessary service. It took a few days to get the churches on board (some immediately called mass prayer meetings).

But the most important and interesting concept to be introduced, as part of a slew of personal measures, was "social distancing", and the constant washing of hands.

So the bird flies over the yard arm.

And we pop the corks.