Local GP, Dr Francois van Niekerk discusses COVID-19 in Newcastle

Dr Francois van Niekerk, Newcastillian
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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Such is the impact of the virus, that our daily lives are now a far cry from what they once were.

As each day passes, the number of cases rise drastically. Currently, there are 276 242 confirmed cases in South Africa. The current death rate stands 4079 deaths, while the number of recoveries stands at 134 874.

But just how bad is the situation in Newcastle? Do we as a community have anything to worry about?

During the course of the week, local GP, Dr Francois van Niekerk sent out a voice note to a WhatsApp Group he belongs to. In the voice note, Dr van Niekerk explains that after months of waiting, things have changed dramatically over the past two weeks.

“COVID-19 is now well and truly with us. What we have seen abroad is starting to happen in our town. The number of positive cases are growing day by day, our hospitals are quickly filling up and confronting doctors with difficult, ethical and clinical decisions.”

He adds the strain on health care workers is significant, with many of them also contracting the virus and needing to self-isolate. This puts extra strain on the remaining staff.

Furthermore, he emphasises that we as a community have a role to play and that it is imperative that we stand together.

“We are now where Italy, Spain and the UK were three months,” he said, encouraging the elderly and vulnerable to stay safe and the community to treat the next two months as a hard lockdown.

Dr van Niekerk also said that in regards to testing, the labs are under extreme pressure to keep ahead of the demand. For that reason, the labs will apparently only do testing on those who display symptoms.

With his voice note going viral within Newcastle, the Newcastillian met with Dr van Niekerk to determine the seriousness of the situation in town.

Why have things changed dramatically over the past two weeks? Why is the number of cases increasing now?

Dr van Niekerk explains that during the lockdown, the number of cases remained low due to the regulations in place. However, as the economy started opening, COVID-19 quickly began to spread.

“As the lockdown relaxed, people also became a bit lax and tired,” he explains. This is due to people being bombarded with global news on the virus, despite not seeing much happening in town.

“We got a bit complacent, doubting it would get to the situation as it was abroad,” he adds.

However, over the past two weeks, medical staff have seen an influx of positive cases from all walks of life. From shop tellers to medical staff.

According to the KZN Department of Health on July 12, the Amajuba District has seen 860 confirmed cases, 222 recoveries and eight deaths.

Why is the death rate suddenly climbing? Why are people in our area suddenly dying from COVID-19?

Dr van Niekerk explains the increase in the death rate follows the increase in cases. However, these deaths normally come days after the increase in cases.

The average time span between diagnosis and death is 17 days. However, Dr van Niekerk says some people survive longer before succumbing to the virus. As the number of cases peak, Dr van Niekerk warns that so will the number of deaths.

However, people are encouraged not to panic. Dr van Niekerk explains that through adhering to basic principles of social distancing, wearing our face masks, washing our hands on a regular basis, and avoiding mass gatherings, we will stand a chance of avoiding the disease.

He also explains that children very seldom get the severe form of COVID-19 and 80% of adults will not even become seriously ill. Those who do get ill, only a small percentage will require hospitalisation and a smaller percentage will require intensive care and ventilation.

But it is of the utmost importance to practice safety.

In his experience, what are the biggest misconceptions surrounding COVID-19?

Dr van Niekerk explains there are two major misconceptions. The first misconception is the doubt of the virus’s existence. “Some people don’t believe in COVID-19 and think the media is making a mediafest out of it.”

The second misconception is that there are people who believe they will die if they contract the virus. This is not the case, unless the person has underlying health issues. And even then, death is not always the outcome.

Who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19?

“People with comorbidities, such as diabetes, immune deficiencies and heart issues are most likely to contract the severe form of COVID-19.”

The elderly is also extremely vulnerable, according to Dr van Niekerk.

As Newcastle prepares to see an increase in the positive cases in the weeks to come, be sure to follow the necessary guidelines to protect yourself and your loved ones.  

Also Read: Dr Regina Hurley, the chair of the Mediclinic Newcastle COVID-19 task team, sheds light on the pandemic


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4 Responses

  1. Is it possible that the Newcastillian provide us with daily updates of the covid19 stats in Amajuba please. It will be much appreciated.

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