Fighting Covid-19: 5 things we need to know, but don't yet

2020-03-22 08:33
Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize (PHOTO: Ihsaan Haffejee)

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As the number of infections of Covid-19 continues to rise daily around the world and in South Africa, many unanswered questions remain.

As of Saturday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed there were 240 infections in the country.

Here are just some examples of questions we need to have answers to, but which government can't or won't answer yet:

  • The projected rate of infections

Government was presented with a set of rudimentary early epidemiological projections over the infection and death rate of the Covid-19 virus last weekend. News24 reported these projections, which were not communicated by President Cyril Ramaphosa or Mkhize.

A team of experts is being assembled to provide new projections and modelling, which will be used to inform government's response.

Projections such as those local experts are working on are being used the world over to inform the response.

  • The condition of infected persons

Little is known about the condition of all those infected with Covid-19. Mkhize confirmed this week that Patient Zero, the KwaZulu-Natal man who was South Africa's first confirmed infection, had recovered well. He has since been discharged from hospital.

It is not clear if any of the other 240 people are in a serious condition or are showing only mild symptoms.

  • Are infection numbers under-reported?

Mkhize this week confirmed about 5 000 tests per day could be conducted, but this would improve to 15 000 and by mid-April should improve to 30 000 per day.

The higher the rate of testing, the less chance there is of an infected person not knowing they are transmitting the virus to their family, friends or strangers.

  • Is government increasing hospital bed capacity?

In badly hit countries such as Italy, it is clear that hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the number of patients in need of critical care.

This week, the Department of Public Works confirmed it was in the process of identifying sites where infected persons would be kept in isolation with other infected people. This is especially important for patients who live in cramped conditions and have no prospects of self-isolating, even if their symptoms are mild.

But almost no information has been released on efforts to find additional hospital bed capacity, which will be an inevitable requirement if the outbreak continues as it has in other countries.

  • Who is leading the effort to mitigate the impact of the virus?

President Ramaphosa announced he would be chairing a command council which would be tasked with coordinating government's efforts to fight the spread of the virus.

But little is known about the scientists and experts who have been called on to lead the battle. News24 understands that Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, Professor Cheryl Cohen and Dr Harry Moultrie are among the top experts at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases who are at the forefront of the nation's response, but the full details are not clear. 

Read more on:    coronavirus
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