Hospitals move to restrict visitors

BITTERSWEET MOMENT: Nicky Nel hopes to give birth at home in Port Alfred. She is due on Thursday
BITTERSWEET MOMENT: Nicky Nel hopes to give birth at home in Port Alfred. She is due on Thursday

As SA enters a period of uncertainty, hospitals have put measures in place to restrict visitors, with Netcare announcing on Wednesday that visits had been suspended — with a few exceptions under strict conditions — during the 21-day lockdown.

All elective and non-essential surgeries have also been delayed.

Caesarean sections do not fall into this category.

Expectant moms in particular, have been feeling the strain as they gear up to give birth — possibly without the support of their loved ones — and amid the real fear of contracting the highly contagious virus.

Mary van Heerden, who has been booked for a caesar at St George’s Hospital on March 31, said she had initially accepted the possibility that her husband would not be allowed to visit her and their baby after he was born.

However, she was subsequently informed that her husband would, in fact,  be allowed to visit — for now.

Van Heerden said never in her wildest dreams had she expected to give birth during a time like this.

In a statement on Wednesday, Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland said all visiting hours for general wards, intensive care units and the high care section had been suspended with immediate effect.

“In light of the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to take extraordinary measures to protect all health-care teams and our patients who cannot be discharged,” he said.

Only in specific circumstances — and with the necessary permission — would a visitor be allowed inside the hospital.

He did, however, say the only exceptions were nurseries and neonatal ICUs where only one parent would be allowed in at a time.

“This is on condition that the parent visiting has had no Covid-19 exposure and accepts that very strict infection-prevention controls will be put in place to minimise the risks to their baby and other babies being cared for in these facilities.

“No grandparents and siblings will be allowed to visit,” Friedland said.

Paediatric wards will also only allow one parent to live in with an admitted child.

An exception could be granted to immediate family members in the situation of a gravely ill patient.

Van Heerden said the new strict hospital visiting protocols had not been communicated to her by the hospital — she had to inquire.

She has an older child at home who would now not be able to visit her new baby brother in hospital.

“I phoned the hospital [St George’s] out of my own and I was told that while only my husband would be allowed to visit — they were not sure if this would continue to be the case once the lockdown had started.”

Asked about her biggest fear, Van Heerden said: “Had you asked me that two weeks ago, I would have said not having my husband there. But that all seems so trivial now.

“My biggest fear is that he will get sick as he works in essential services.”

Nicky Nel is hoping for a home birth to avoid any outside risks.

However, she said she had filled in the necessary paperwork for Life Beacon Bay Hospital in East London should everything not go to plan.

With her due date on Thursday, she said she had not imagined her baby would be arriving during a national lockdown.

She also feared contracting the coronavirus while in hospital.

“My other [worry] as an expecting mom is not being able to receive help.

“I live in a small community [in Port Alfred] and when our son was born we received so much help.”

She was especially worried about her son, who would likely struggle to adjust to a new baby but would not be able to enjoy the distractions of grandparents and friends.

“My husband’s company is part of the food industry so he will return to work after paternity leave, leaving me at home with two children and no extra helping hands.”

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Dr Cameron McIntosh said he had postponed all his scheduled procedures.

“As of Friday there will only be one person on call to deal with emergencies and there will be no consultations.”

McIntosh said ENTs were regarded as high risk for contracting Covid-19 and that it was therefore essential to postpone all elective procedures at this stage.