Eastern Cape not out of the Covid-19 woods yet, as it runs out of hospital bed space

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Dr Sibongile Zungu. Picture: Jabulani Langa
Dr Sibongile Zungu. Picture: Jabulani Langa


The Eastern Cape may seemingly be over the worst of its Covid-19 coronavirus resurgence, as the number of daily new infections continues to decline, but it’s not out of the woods yet – it must still contend with rising pressure on hospital bed space in at least three of its districts.

According to the latest tally of figures (released on Tuesday night by the department of health), the province had 182 507 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 7 379 of those being active cases.

At least 1 705 people are currently admitted at the province’s health facilities due to Covid-19 and, according to the provincial health department’s acting head, Dr Sibongile Zungu, hospitals are still feeling the heat.

Hospitals in three district municipalities are hovering under 20% available capacity for general bed space for Covid-19 patients.

You’ve known about the second wave for a while as a province – there is absolutely no excuse as to why you haven’t capacitated three districts with facilities that have high-care and ICU capacity.
EFF’s MP Naledi Chirwa

The province has the highest number of deaths related to Covid-19, with a total of 9 036 of the 34 334 recorded so far.

“We are concerned over three district municipalities in terms of the availability of general beds. The Alfred Nzo (only 13.3% beds still available), Buffalo City metro (11.8% available) and OR Tambo (17.5%) municipalities all show pressure on their general bed space. And in terms of the critical care beds, in Alfred Nzo, Joe Gqabi municipality and Nelson Mandela Bay metro there is pressure in terms of critical care beds,” Zungu stated on Wednesday when briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on the province’s health services readiness and capacity for its Covid-19 response.

“Further, districts such as Alfred Nzo, Joe Gqabi and Sarah Baartman do not have dedicated ICU facilities,” she continued, elaborating also on the province’s contingency measures to tackle that, such as capacitating certain facilities in other districts nearing the above-mentioned with more oxygen capacity and staff.

Read: Eastern Cape urged not to be complacent as Covid-19 cases show slight decline

On this issue, the provincial department came under heavy fire, particularly from the EFF’s MP Naledi Chirwa.

“You’ve known about the second wave for a while as a province (that it would arrive as with subsequent waves) – there is absolutely no excuse as to why you haven’t capacitated three districts with facilities that have high-care and ICU capacity.”

Chirwa continued: “Your incompetence and laziness have resulted in the current high death rate in the province compared with others … Not only did you waste possible funds for better emergency medical services, you are squandering those on meaningless scooters regardless of the fact that, for some patients, the nearest ICU facility is four hours away.”

Zungu also outlined the province’s vaccine roll-out plan, in line with the national government’s plan to vaccinate 67% of the adult population over the year, in an effort to achieve herd immunity.

Read: The scramble to provide Covid-19 vaccine

Last week, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that the department had secured 1.5 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine through the Serum Institute of India.

One million of those doses are expected by the end of the month and the remainder is expected next month.

It is still unclear as to when exactly the actual roll-out and jabs will be made on the country’s healthcare force – to be prioritised in the first of three phases of the vaccine roll-out strategy.

However, Zungu said that the province had already estimated that it would involve 200 000 people in its health workforce.

We need to work with the office of the premier to maybe look into using schools (to set up vaccination points).
Dr Sibongile Zungu

She said that, according to their calculations, 3.7 million adults of the province’s population would need to be vaccinated and this was separated into the 1.5 million frontline essential workers who would need vaccination in the second phase of the roll-out and around 2 million who would make up the third phase.

Zungu said the province was still looking into establishing a provincial Covid-19 vaccination project task team which would deal with the details of the roll-out plan and the procurement of resources needed.

But the infrastructure to roll out the vaccine presented a challenge as the province had 2 873 rural communities where people had to walk more than 5km to reach their nearest healthcare facility.

“We need to work with the office of the premier to maybe look into using schools (to set up vaccination points). We are awaiting guidance from the national department on this to ensure the safety of vaccine roll-out, as well as to start accrediting the spaces within these schools to ensure people can access vaccination sites within 5km (of where they work or reside),” she added.


Vuyo Mkize 

Health Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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