Opposition parties in the Eastern Cape are seething over incorrect reporting of Covid-19 deaths in the province, and the national department of health is investigating what actually transpired.
This comes after Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Wednesday that of the 844 deaths that had been reported in the country, 452 had occurred in the Eastern Cape in a 24-hour cycle – a significant increase from 124 deaths in the previous 24-hour cycle in that province.
However, in the same statement of January 6, the minister explained that the 452 deaths in the Eastern Cape were actually as a result of a consolidation of deaths between May and November.
The two main opposition parties in the province – the DA and the EFF – have called for heads to roll, given the severity of the Covid-19 situation in the province and nationally.
Jane Cowley, DA spokesperson on health in the province, said she was shocked.
“I’ve always maintained that the province is completely underreporting and completely under-testing. And I’m telling you that the 452 deaths they’ve now found aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. Where were the data? It can’t be that suddenly, in January, the data from May and June are found. Where has it been? It’s absolute nonsense. They have no control over reporting. I don’t think they ever had control,” she said.
Cowley said there could be more deaths in the province than were reported: “Remember, the statistics in Nelson Mandela Bay didn’t change for four weeks in July during [a surge in infections]. They can’t turn around and say the death statistics are accurate. It’s a disgrace. They’re undermining the population of this province.”
Yazini Tetyana, chairperson of the EFF in the Eastern Cape and party leader at the Eastern Cape provincial legislature in Bhisho, said the announcement that there had been 452 deaths in the province in a 24-hour period had created alarm and panic.
“We’ve been getting reports since the Covid-19 pandemic started that detail how many people died and where. Are they now saying that these reports that they’ve been giving us all along weren’t factual? That’s what it means,” said Tetyana.
Sizwe Kupelo, provincial department of health spokesperson, said some of the problems in the reporting could be attributed to health workers being overwhelmed in the early days of the pandemic. Protests by healthcare workers in the province a few months later may also have contributed to the backlog in reporting.
Kupelo welcomed the investigation by the national department of health.
“‘Investigating’ may not be what the department’s intending to do, but rather finding out exactly what contributed to what’s happened. Any process aimed at correcting things and verifying information is always welcome. Covid-19 is a crisis that is facing everyone, and our priority is to save lives,” he said.