On Thursday, the Gauteng premier’s advisory committee signalled that it might be necessary to raise Covid-19 restriction levels in Gauteng. The nation’s economic hub is in the grip of a bruising third wave, with more than 67 000 active cases. However, the premier of the province, David Makhura, has cautioned against tighter Level 5 restrictions, citing the economic damage that might cause.
The committee’s Professor Bruce Mellado said the models they were working with suggested the worst was yet to come. “So far, unfortunately, we don’t have indicators that point at the fact that we’ve reached the peak. We haven’t reached the peak yet.”
Mellado told the media they would be watching the numbers very closely over the next few days. “If today and tomorrow the numbers are the same level as yesterday, we certainly have to consider the possibility that we may be encountering a second spike. Of course, we’ll certainly trigger the alarm that we may need tighter and harsher measures to be implemented to curb the spread.”
Mellado, who leads modelling in the province, said the committee had advised him it was too late for hard restrictions. However, a number of restrictions that worked to prevent a severe second wave in the province were suggested.
These relate to travel and social distancing, with Mellado saying commuters, especially those in taxis, must wear masks and sanitise. But, because the entire north of the country was engulfed by the virus, it was too late to restrict interprovincial travel and, if it was restricted, the cost to the economy would be huge.
“We had a scare two weeks ago with the spike. It’s scary and it may happen again if there is no adherence to social distancing.”
However, Makhura ruled out the possibility of implementing a Level 5 lockdown in the province, despite a staggering increase in Covid-19 cases.
He warned that people were becoming complacent and were not taking the third wave seriously. He said the hospitals were beginning to feel the pressure. But he said he was aware that having a hard lockdown would impact the economy negatively.
“The various centres of the economy are recovering. So, we cannot disrupt that recovery. We cannot afford [it] ... we cannot shut down the economy. We cannot afford for people to stay at home like during Level 5 of the first wave, because we don’t have the resources to support people while they stay at home,” he said.
Makhura added that law enforcement was crucial when it came to the adherence to regulations.
“Whatever measures we take, a lot of them have to do with enforcing those that are there at Level 3. Yesterday, we met with law enforcement. You’re going to see a lot of increased dramatic operations by our law enforcement agencies just to enforce [regulations] in various places – funerals, restaurants, malls and various public spaces – to ensure that people comply with the current restrictions,” he said.
The premier announced that parts of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, which was closed after a devastating fire, would reopen from Monday to ease the burden on other medical facilities.
He admitted that the delay had affected the Covid-19 response and added that it affected all tertiary hospitals in the province, including the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto and regional hospitals.
Makhura said the province was focusing on increasing bed capacity, even if it meant reactivating field hospitals in the province.
“You know, we’ve had Nasrec hospital and some members in this house [the Gauteng legislature] were constantly saying that the hospital was not being utilised and must be closed. We are looking at reactivating that because, working with the private sector again, we don’t want to leave any facility in our provinces that can help us to save lives,” he said.
However, he cautioned that the capacity currently available was running out due to the high numbers.
On Wednesday night, the province recorded more than 10 700 new infections – a figure far higher than infection rates at the peak of the first and second waves.
Makhura added that he had also asked the finance department to work with the health department to ensure that they come up with plans for an increase in hospital staff. He said the private medical sector was also experiencing an issue with the recruitment of nurses.
“We’re going to be working together on this to increase the capacity, including the new corps of doctors who’ve completed their training. We’re doing everything to ensure that they can be brought into the system,” he added.