I’m also among those fortunate who have been able to continue to earn a living working from home. I seldom go out, unlike the hundreds of thousands of South African taxi and other public transport users who face a heightened risk of contracting the virus.
But early in June, I had no choice: I needed to interview several people for a corruption investigation that I was working on, and my sources would only speak to me in person.
I felt the risk was low as I’d been vaccinated with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccination six weeks earlier — enough time to build up immunity to the virus. Nevertheless, I set out well-prepared with a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket. I also wore two tight-fitting masks, each with additional, replaceable filter material inserted in a special pocket, as I normally do on the rare occasions when I go out in public.
At a time when the Delta variant is surging across the globe, someone like me who is vaccinated may be lulled into a false sense of safety, but in South Africa, where vaccinations rates have largely lagged, the threat remains quite high — and until vaccinations rates increase — extra precautions are needed.
Arriving for my meeting in Hout Bay Harbour in Cape Town, I found myself in a small room with two other people, neither of them wearing a mask. I was able to position myself about 2 meters — more than 6 feet — from them but, as the interview began, several other people, none of them wearing masks, entered the room.
Feeling very uncomfortable I asked, after less than five minutes, if we could continue outside. But it was too late. In those few minutes, despite all my precautions, I now believe I had been infected.
About two weeks later I developed a barking, dry cough and sore throat, and I was sneezing non-stop. I was also breathing with difficulty — but, because of the vaccination and all my precautions, I convinced myself that it was a bout of flu and decided that all I needed was paracetamol and bed rest.
By the following day, my body was aching as if I’d gone through a few rounds with a professional boxer, and I was literally gasping for breath. My doctor, after a phone consultation, said I should go for a Covid test. He also prescribed cortisone and a very strong antibiotic.
Should my breathing get worse, or if my oxygen levels dropped below 94, I should go directly to my closest emergency room as I may need oxygen, or even hospital admission, he said.
Almost miraculously, by the next morning my oxygen levels had improved, and I was able to breathe more easily. I was still feeling unwell, but there was a marked improvement in my condition. I’m now almost fully recovered, although I’m still left with some lingering after-effects of Covid, including fatigue and muddled thinking if I overexert myself.
What followed surprised me: while many people wished me well, others — either anti-vaxxers or the vaccination hesitant — took my experience as proof that Covid vaccinations don’t work, rather than having minimized my illness and helped speed up my recovery.
“Whereas South Africa has delivered only 1.6 vaccines per 100 people, Namibia has delivered twice this rate, and Botswana and Zimbabwe more than three times this rate. South Africa accounts for 43% of confirmed Covid-19 deaths but only 3% of vaccinations in Africa,” reported the Daily Maverick.
But it is too late to help with the third wave of Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths that has South Africa by the throat.
For me, having previously reported and read widely on Covid, I believed this before, but after my own experience, I’m even more certain.