Health Minister Zweli Mkhize gave a warning to the nation on Tuesday: That the low rate of infections could be nothing short of the gathering storm to come.
Mkhize urged citizens to adhere to lockdown rules and get used to wearing masks as protective gear.
“The small growth in numbers might be the calm before a devastating storm,” said Mkhize.
At the time he was speaking, South Africa had 1,383 positive cases and only five deaths. The increase rate has declined since the first confirmed cases.
Mkhize said the effect of the Covid-19 coronavirus would likely intensify from this week and he warned that the mortality rate was expected to rise.
“Next month the flu season will start and our hospitals and clinics will be flooded; this will create a fertile ground for [the] coronavirus to spread or to be masked in its presentation. We need to be aware that there might not be many further warnings before the pounding descends,” he said.
Speaking in Durban on Tuesday Mkhize warned that it was not clear what the country would be like after the lockdown but said citizens would have to adjust how they behave.
“I don’t think life will be normal after the 21 days, there has to be an adjustment in the way we behave and in the way we do things,” said Mkhize.
Responding to a question about whether the lockdown would be extended beyond the 21-day period, he said it would be determined by the spread of the infection in the remaining days of the lockdown.
Mkhize cautioned that the flu season would make things worse because people could easily catch the virus.
“As we move towards the winter days the effect of viral infections will take its toll on all of us. We need to continue taking precautions. Covid-19 will complicate the influenza season even more,” Mkhize said.
On Wednesday evening, Mkhize announced an increase of just 27 cases. He said the low positive cases were a result of the lockdown and the travel ban in and out of the country.
“Closing the borders, enforcing quarantine on inbound travellers, as well as the lockdown, have slowed internal transmissions by reducing the spread [that could occur] during large gatherings and on overcrowded transport routes”.
Mkhize conceded that the mortality rate was getting higher and was likely to increase in the days ahead. However, there were still only five recorded deaths.
Mkhize said the department was planning added testing methods, including mobile testing which would help in the winter season. Fast testing kits would produce rapid results.
Mkhize warned that no one in the country had a clear picture of how many people had been infected. Testing criteria are restrictive and detect only those with reactive symptoms.
“Those people who might have mild symptoms in poorer areas might not seek help immediately. Our testing criteria are reactive and restrictive. This means we don’t have a true picture. Although we are talking about 45 000 tests, this is too low, given the size of the population,” said Mkhize.