Gauteng needs to be in Level 5 lockdown, schools must close, says Netcare CEO

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Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare. Photo: Getty
Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare. Photo: Getty
  • Netcare's CEO says Gauteng hospitals are buckling under the strain of an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases.
  • He wants government to put the province in Level 5 lockdown, and close all schools.
  • Colder conditions, poor ventilation and a lack of natural immunity are driving the Gauteng third wave - but the Delta variant might not be to blame.

As Gauteng hospitals struggle to cope with a record-breaking third wave of the pandemic, the CEO of South Africa’s largest private hospital group issued an urgent call that the province should be placed under Level 5 lockdown, with all schools closed.

During an interview with The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield on Monday, Netcare’s Richard Friedland warned that the numbers of Covid-19 patients "are overwhelming facilities at the moment".

He added that Gauteng hospitals have been dealing with a "mass casualty situation" since last week Wednesday, likening the strain to the aftermath of a train accident, or the collapse of a sports stadium, with "injuries on a massive scale". But unlike these disasters, the crisis is not over in a couple of hours, but remains ongoing, Friedland added.

On Wednesday last week, Gauteng saw 7 900 Covid-19 cases in a single day - 1 000 more than the second-wave peak on 8 January. These numbers have been steadily increasing and there’s no evidence of a peak yet, Friedland said.

"I’m afraid that these numbers are demonstrating that [without] a Level 5 lockdown in Gauteng, we may not see the end of this surge for some time."

Friedland added that schools needed to close. "Schools are transmitters of the virus. Yes, children themselves may not be that badly impacted by the illness, but they pass it on to parents, caregivers and grandparents and we think that’s problematic," he told The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield

On Monday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the province might impose stricter Covid-19 restrictions, given the rise in new cases and dwindling bed capacity.

Almost 70% of all new Covid-19 daily cases were in Gauteng in the preceding 24 hours, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said on Monday. 

Friedland says there have been long been fears about the impact of a deadly pandemic on South Africa’s most densely populated province, and these are now being realised. The spread of the pandemic is being worsened by the cold conditions, with less social distancing and poor ventilation. Gauteng also has less "natural immunity" against the disease because it was not as badly affected by the first and second waves as other province, he added.

But there’s no evidence to suggest that the current surge is due to the Delta variant, Friedland says. Expert analysis, confirmed by Netcare’s own work, still sees "the same Beta variant" dominating cases.

Friedland said that while hospitals have been preparing for the third wave, and that much has improved in terms of treatment protocols and oxygenation of patients, the "sheer numbers" of patients in Gauteng are overwhelming. 

There are some 1 800 critical care beds in Gauteng private hospitals, with half of them at Netcare hospitals.

He warned other provinces, particularly the Western and Easter Cape to get as many people vaccinated as possible. According to Netcare’s forecasts, the Western Cape could face the same Gauteng wave in three to four weeks.

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