by Charmaine Ngatjiheue and Ester Mbathera
PANIC has gripped the country following the announcement of the first Covid-19-related death at Walvis Bay over the weekend.
The country also continues to record a high number of positive cases at the coastal town, raising fears the disease’s community spread could be wider than anticipated.
On top of this, rumours circulated that the deceased did not die of the virus, adding to confusion.
On Friday, minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula announced Namibia’s first Covid-19-related death at Walvis Bay, involving a 45-year-old man who presented to the Walvis Bay State Hospital on 5 July with symptoms.
“He complained of dizziness, difficulty breathing and a cough,” the minister said.
Prior to that, the deceased visited a healthcare facility on 2 July, as he is known to be on treatment for schizophrenia, but has had no recent psychotic episodes.
When the deceased visited Walvis Bay State Hospital on 5 July, Shangula said his vital signs were not satisfactory, and a respiratory examination showed abnormalities of the lungs.
“The patient was diagnosed with pneumonia to rule out Covid-19, and was admitted to the transition ward and received treatment and further examination,” Shangula said.
The patient’s condition worsened on 6 July, and he also started showing signs of severe kidney failure and sepsis. The patient became restless, hyperventilated and died on Wednesday, 8 July.
Five days after admission, the patient’s Covid-19 test results came back positive.
“A person who died due to Covid-19 is buried by the state and not by the family,” Shangula yesterday said.
Namibia recorded its first two Covid-19 cases on 13 March, with the country going 118 days without reporting a related death.
Country director for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Namibia, Dr Eric Dziuban, said the next weeks will be difficult for Namibia as the country is expected to see a surge in the number of confirmed cases.
Speaking at a media session organised by the Namibia Media Trust on Friday, Dziuban said death in this instance was inevitable.
“As cases go up, we will see Namibians dying of the virus. We know that people who are older are more at risk of dying, so having in general a smaller part of the population being the elderly with certain risk factors, like obesity and heart disease, will potentially make us have a lower death rate overall,” he said.
Meanwhile, the family of the deceased has given the state the go-ahead to bury the deceased as per the regulations for burying people who died from the virus.
Simon Haufiku, family spokesperson of the deceased, said the family understands the implications involved in handling the remains of a person who died as a result of Covid-19.
“Yes, my brother was taking long-term medication, but we also understand that people with long-term illnesses are vulnerable to Covid-19. Hence, we have no issues with the explanation given by the state. Coronavirus is real and we see how it is killing people all over the world,” said Haufiku.
The deceased is survived by his mother, wife, several siblings and children.
He was employed as a storeman at a state-owned enterprise at Walvis Bay.
Haufiku said the family will not host a memorial service or a wake amid the pandemic.
Haufiku and the deceased’s family have distanced themselves from rumours circulating on social media claiming the deceased didn’t die of Covid-19. At the deceased’s house at Kuisebmond, 28 tenants are yet to be tested for the virus.
Only his sister and uncle, who live at Walvis Bay, are allowed to attend his burial, which was planned for Saturday.
However, according to Haufiku, it could not happen as the authorities could not find a suitable burial site.
“They told us the identified site was not deep enough as the underground water table was too shallow. They are searching for another site. This left us with many questions on the state’s readiness to deal with this pandemic,” he said.
The executive director of health and social services, Ben Nangombe, said the authorities are engaging with the family of the deceased and to explain how his burial will be conducted.
“This burial is the first, but we do this for other burials as a result of infectious diseases like anthrax, Congo fever and Ebola,” said Nangombe.
“The body is infectious, it cannot be touched. It is prepared in such a way that it is put in a special body bag. You cannot do traditional rituals,” he said.
He said not all deaths during the pandemic will be counted as Covid-19-related deaths, and that a deceased person would only be tested if there is reason enough to believe there was exposure to Covid-19.