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Catching up with our Covid subjects - Johannesburg resident, Ed Charles.

In April we did a podcast featuring five subjects from around the world and what life in the Covid crisis was like where they're from. In this blog series we catch up with them to find out what has changed (and what hasn't) Next up, we talk to Ed Charles, born in the UK but a former Melbourne-based journalist who moved to Johannesburg in South Africa with his South Africa partner.

"We are still in our house, which I am still renovating. We are thankful for where we live, which has a beautiful view over Johannesburg stretching some 60 kilometres. It’s a peaceful and safe place to be.

Luckily it looks like my partner Pam is now permanently working from home on IT for a local bank, which gives us more time together.

It's pretty awful here and we remain at Level 3 of lockdown. 

People who can least afford to protect themselves are suffering most, from starvation, loss of jobs and the virus itself.

First of all, masks are mandatory if you leave the house. No visitors are allowed.

Restaurants are open but they can't serve alcohol. No tobacco sales.

Businesses are folding.

As of today we have more than 250,000 known cases and 3,860 deaths. But there is a shortage of tests and results are taking weeks so the situation is probably a lot worse than the official figures indicate.

Gauteng has become the epicentre of the pandemic, centred on the townships of Alexandra and Soweto.

When we spoke on April 6 we had 1,686 cases and 12 deaths. The country was already in recession before the lockdown and the country now can barely afford to pay unemployment benefits.

The problem is the people now most affected live in townships where either their small houses are crowded with many generations of family. At worst they live with them in a one room shack with no running water and shared toilets. It is impossible for these people to physically distance themselves from each other or isolate. A lot of public services are being affected by Covid lockdowns, including our local rubbish collection, multiple police stations, various government offices and utilities. For example, our sewer is overflowing and we are unable to report it due to Joburg Water offices being closed.

At first the government was praised for the swift action in locking down the economy from 26 March on though it was criticised for banning the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

Crime rates and homicides fell and hospital wards were empty.

But soon after alcohol restrictions were lifted on 29 May the hospital emergency departments filled up with drunks - there was a 40-50% increase in casualty cases.

Meanwhile, tobacco sales remain banned and the government is losing tax revenue to criminals.

Where the government really deserves criticism is in two areas: distribution of unemployment benefit; and distribution of food parcels.

Unemployment benefit payments have been slow and despite employers contributing to the scheme , many foreign workers had payments rejected. Now the scheme is running short of cash.

Food parcels were arranged but due to corruption, incompetance and bureacracy weren't distributed. The government really need to come up with a plan to create jobs and give people decent homes.

I haven't had the virus but with hay fever I do panic every time I cough or sneeze.

For a while we relaxed our approach and had distanced drinks in the street. On two occasions has couples over to our house to eat, one of whom this week was struck down with Covid.

But when numbers started increasing exponentially, we tightened up again and try and only go shopping once a week, mid-week when there are fewer crowds.

Because I have been building my hands are covered in cuts and drying out. So I've started wearing surgical gloves out to protect myself from all the hand sanitiser and hand washing.

What I miss is the opportunity to travel interstate or abroad, particularly to see my family and to visit my mother who has been hospitalised in the UK for age-related illness. But I can't see myself wanting to get onto a plane or a bus for a long time. I think that means, apart from Zoom calls, I will not physically see my mother again.

I'm not visiting restaurants or buying much stuff and I suspect it is the same for lots of people.

I think that we underestimate the impact on the economy with massive hikes in unemployment and drops in income for people.

The future is terrifying and unknown.

I find it difficult to imagine life going back to what we knew as normal.


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