South Africa has entered “phase 3” of the coronavirus pandemic, but the infection, instead of stopping, is spreading, reports Fides News Agency. The cases have reached 395,000 (half of all infections in Africa) and the recorded deaths are 6,000. At the moment, they are concentrated in some areas. The greatest number of infections are in the Western Cape province and in the region of Johannesburg. Commuters who move to work in the east of the country have brought the virus to the least affected areas: “There are people who work between Cape Town and Gauteng – explains the Cape Healthcare Department – they move between these areas of the Country and spread the infection”. The fear is that the epidemic also reaches other regions less affected today.
To cope with the emergency, the authorities have imposed strict safety rules: social distancing, wearing face masks, disinfecting hands, etc. But shops, workshops, offices, and schools are open. Restaurants can work or sell takeaway food. Coffee shops are open at reduced hours. Electricity and Internet connection have always been guaranteed to the whole nation.
“The drama – observes Pablo Velasquez, a Scalabrinian missionary in Johannesburg – is that in the last few days people have lowered their guard. Too many people go around for work or to have fun because they have the feeling that the virus is not dangerous. This is likely to aggravate the situation and to sink into an even more rigid lockdown than what we have experienced in the past few months”.
Particular attention is paid to large slums. There is a fear that excessive closures will lead to riots by people in search of food. “In cities, one does not see policemen or soldiers – continues Father Pablo – but around the slums controls are punctual. I carry out a part of my pastoral service in a shantytown. So I had the opportunity to enter. I saw many people around, without any form of protection. The risk of spreading the virus is high also because of the poor hygiene conditions in shanty towns”.
Religious services are still divided among a thousand precautions. “We have decided to resume celebrating masses – observed Father Pablo – but with only 50 faithful who must book in advance and must respect the strict rules imposed by the authority. We told our faithful that if one or more were to be registered cases among those who attend mass, we will close the church on a date to be set”.
In addition to spiritual assistance, the Scalabrinians also offer financial help. For weeks, every day, the community of Johannesburg provided food to the poor township people who were unable to go to work. Thousands of people were assisted who, since early morning, lined up for help. “We are exhausted – Father Pablo underlines – we had to reduce the days of distribution of food and select the most needy people. We had no more funds to feed everyone”.
Covid-19 is not only a health emergency but also a serious economic emergency. In addition to food, people also seek financial help. “Unemployment – concludes the missionary – is rampant. People have no money. An increasing number of people come to ask us for financial support to pay the rent. To get any occupation, people are ready to pay bribes to mediators. Corruption increases. These are also the consequences of the pandemic”.