Emergency services officials say there has been a shift away from trauma-related calls to calls about COVID-19. It’s been 10 days since the national lockdown came into effect in South Africa and emergency services personnel say there has been a steep decline in the number of trauma-related calls they have received, particularly in relation to alcohol.

Emergency services personnel are beginning to get used to a clean Hillbrow, without people and with police lights flickering from a distance. Once in a while, the radio abruptly interrupts the quiet.

The picture painted by Station Manager, Lefa Kgomo, of a regular Friday night at the end of the month, is one of constant movement with heavy consumption of alcohol.

“We’ve had a significant drop in the number of calls. Not that they’re not there … they are there. This area would be full of people moving up and down (There is a night club). Taxis would also be here on the left-hand side and there would be people moving around. The shop here in front of us is always busy; open almost 24 hours. This intersection here, you can see people walking around with beers like it’s the middle of the day. This is the busiest part of the Hillbrow area.”

On busy days, the paramedics agree that the effects of every tragedy are reflected upon after each accident. The incidents emergency personnel attend to often remain with them.

Shift Manager James Miller can never shake off an accident he attended to years ago.

“The specific incident, I remember, many years ago … it was a grandmother taking two of her grandchildren to the shop and it was in the days when seat belt legislation wasn’t that good. Two of these poor children, aged 2 and 3 years old, going to the shops with their grandma going to buy whatever on a Saturday afternoon and they were hit by a drunken driver. And of course, both these children were killed and in that process, I had to take them to hospital and it was a large tragedy. The family would never really recover from the loss of two small children because of a drunken driver.”

Despite the current calm on Hillbrow’s streets, Kgomo says there are more house calls with people in a panic over contracting the coronavirus.

“All the people, they’re now indoors. All the trauma or alcohol-related emergency medical calls, they’ve been replaced by the calls now in the houses. COVID-19 has caused a lot of panic and people are confused. They don’t understand what’s going on. It’s a new thing that they are facing so now and then they would call an ambulance, ‘I’ve got a fever. I’ve got a cough.’”

A stop at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, just minutes away from the Emergency personnel’s base, also bears testament to the times. Paramedics note that usually at night, the parking lot would be filled with ambulances and frantic emergency personnel. However, there is now one ambulance with no patients lingering in the waiting area.