It’s still early days, but indications are there that three provinces have reached their peak in Covid-19 coronavirus infections and are now showing a decline in new daily infections – but a second wave of outbreaks looms if South Africans drop their guard.
This according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who gave a situational update regarding Covid-19 in the country during a virtual briefing on Wednesday morning.
Talking about a graph depicting the progression of the outbreak in the country from April until August 2, Mkhize said it appeared that the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng had reached their peak infections and were now showing a decline.
As of Tuesday night, the country had 521 318 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 8 884 deaths. The official number of people who had recovered from the highly infectious respiratory illness was 363 751.
“Around June 7, the numbers in the Western Cape started taking a downward turn. We have [been tracking infections] for the past two months now and we have continuously had fewer numbers of positive tests per day in that province. For a long time we didn’t talk about it because we wanted to observe what this phenomenon was, but we are able to confirm that the numbers of infections and admissions anticipated in the Western Cape did not materialise ... even the number of deaths,” Mkhize said.
“A few weeks later we saw the Eastern Cape mimicking the Western Cape and cases per day were around the 2 000 mark. Then on July 12 we started seeing those numbers slowly tapering downwards, and this trend has been going on for three weeks now. It doesn’t mean that there are no new cases, [just that] the new cases are fewer than what they were before and so the rate of growth has slowed.”
Gauteng – which had seen a rapid increase in infections in June, with just fewer that 6 000 daily infections around June 10 – has also been showing a decline over the past three weeks.
“During that time, we all felt pressure. We had reports that hospitals were full and we went around and confirmed that the admission areas of hospitals were filling up and the field hospitals were never full and a number of hospital beds were never filled. But we’re not out of the woods yet because those managing the admission and treatment of patients can still feel that wards are full and beds are full, but we haven’t got to a situation where we don’t have space for patients,” he said.
But it may only just be the beginning for KwaZulu-Natal.
The province, which has 85 986 confirmed cases of Covid-19, is reaching close to 3 000 new infections daily.
“It’s slowly tapering off, but it’s not easy to say that the province is decreasing in cases. We are concerned about this because we think this is where the real pressure of Covid-19 will be felt. Although we feel [the pressure] in Gauteng, it will be even stronger in KwaZulu-Natal,” Mkhize said.
He noted that questions had been asked on whether the plateau in cases in some provinces was owing to reduced testing numbers or fewer people getting infected.
To assess this, he said, they had looked at key indicators including reduced numbers of hospital admissions and people under investigation going to health facilities; the fact that hospital capacity had not been breached; and that despite the surge, there hadn’t been a significant increase in deaths.
“While we are cautiously optimistic, it is still too early for us to make definite conclusions regarding the observed decline. We will need another two or three weeks to see if this is indeed a downward trend.”
Mkhize stressed that people needed to continue wearing face masks, observing social distancing and washing hands.
The minister also announced that he had appointed a team led by Professor Taole Mokoena to investigate allegations that a doctor had died at George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa from a Covid-19-related illness as a result of lack of personal protective equipment.
The team is to investigate this matter and provide a report within two weeks. The report will be made public, Mkhize said.
At least 24 104 healthcare workers in the country have been infected with Covid-19 and 181 have died.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will be sending 43 senior experts from across the world, led by Dr Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, to give advice on the management of the pandemic in South Africa. Seventeen of the experts will be landing on Wednesday and will be placed under quarantine before being deployed within the department and to the various provinces.