Even though the number of Covid-19 coronavirus deaths in Gauteng is relatively low, this could change in the next few weeks.
Bandile Masuku, Gauteng health MEC, said the province had been fortunate because most of the patients had the resources to help themselves recover from the virus with little help from the state.
According to the figures released by the provincial government, Gauteng had the country’s highest number of Covid-19 cases – 1 148. Six deaths had been recorded by Sunday and 903 people had recovered.
The whole country had 3 158 cases.
A breakdown by district showed that Johannesburg had 690 infections, Tshwane 122, West Rand 39, Sedibeng 11, Ekurhuleni 233; 53 cases were not allocated. The death rate is only the third-highest in South Africa – 54 people have died so far. KwaZulu-Natal had the most deaths (22) from 617 cases, and the Western Cape 17 from 868 cases.
Masuku told City Press that the majority of infected patients in Gauteng had not required hospitalisation. Initial infections were of people from affluent backgrounds, who could afford testing and treatment at private health facilities, he said.
“I would not say it’s something that we [the Gauteng government] are doing differently. I would say it is just the nature of the virus patterns in Gauteng. Only 1.6% of all infected people had to be placed in the intensive care unit; it is just a matter of fortune and it [the trajectory of infections and deaths] might change.”
The MEC said the nationwide shutdown had enabled the province to improve its tracing system and it had found ways to protect healthcare professionals. He said it was now easier to locate people who had been exposed to the virus, either through an infected person or through their work or travels.
The Gauteng government could now geolocate infected individuals and also track their movements since they contracted the virus, he said. A dashboard has been created where people can get a live feed of those they are in contact with and who have been infected.
“We even know the basic things we are trying to do in terms of tracing. This has improved in terms of the contacts. We have improved it [tracing] with technology. When we started off, our tracing was around 58% to 60% but now we are almost at more than 90%,” Masuku said.
Out of the 6 431 identified contacts who were traced and put under isolation or in quarantine, 2 394 have now been cleared of Covid-19. The remaining 4 037 were still under medical surveillance by a team of tracers until they were cleared, Masuku said.
Since March 31, community health workers and health professionals have screened 196 421 people, of whom 2 591 were referred for testing.
Masuku added that there were also measures in place to protect healthcare professionals who could easily be exposed to the virus.
Health workers are at the front line of the response to the pandemic and, as such, are exposed to hazards that put them at risk of infection. The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union had earlier expressed concerns about the growing number of front line workers contracting the virus, especially in the private healthcare sector.
The Mediclinic Morningside in Sandton is one of the private hospitals to introduce strict access measures after 12 of its staff members tested positive for the virus this week. Masuku explained that most of the health workers who were initially infected did not contract the virus because of their work, but in their social circles.
“What is important is the provision of personal protective equipment and we want to make sure that all of our healthcare workers have that,” he said.
On the controversial ban of alcohol sales, Masuku said he believed allowing this would only make the situation worse. “We have always made it a point that in terms of the burden of the virus that we have in Gauteng, alcohol is the most underlying factor. So, when you talk about the trauma of car accidents, trauma of people shooting, beating and stabbing each other – in all of them the underlying factor is alcohol. Other diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are worsened by alcohol. We made this point even before the pandemic.”
Gauteng has moved to the next phase of its plan to fight the pandemic, with a more futuristic approach, which prepares the province for a larger pandemic and a higher demand for healthcare and other facilities.
On Tuesday, Masuku visited the Johannesburg Expo Centre in Nasrec, which has been transformed into a healthcare centre. The first phase can house up to 500 people at a time. “Those are facility beds, it is not for a hospital at the moment.”
He said the centre could be used for the isolation and quarantine of patients or by the human settlements department because “it wants to decongest squatter camps and informal settlements. It could be used by the department of social development for the homeless. It’s an idea which is evolving,” he said.