Covid-19 in the Western Cape: Hospitals facing crisis as DA fights to open beaches

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The hospital network in the Western Cape is straining under a surge of Covid-19 admissions.
The hospital network in the Western Cape is straining under a surge of Covid-19 admissions.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
  • The DA has launched a High Court challenge to the closure of beaches in the Garden Route district, saying it's not in line with scientific evidence and is unenforceable.
  • This, as public and private hospitals across the province strain under a surge of Covid-19 cases and admissions.
  • ICU bed space is a scarce commodity, with private patients being moved to state hospitals. 

As the DA gears up to challenge Garden Route beach closures in the Western Cape High Court, the province’s health system is nearing a crisis with ICU bed availability in some hospitals close to full occupancy, and private patients being moved to state hospitals.

The province has entered its second wave of Covid-19 with daily infection numbers surging higher than has ever been seen in the pandemic. Hospitals are reaching the point of being overwhelmed.

Private hospitals in popular Garden Route holiday spots such as Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, and Mossel Bay are near full capacity, with reports of a lack of ventilators for critical Covid-19 patients in the area.

READ | DA goes to court in bid to overturn govt's lockdown decision

Patients have been airlifted to Cape Town because of a lack of ICU bed capacity.

But some City hospitals have also reached maximum capacity, with private patients being moved to Karl Bremer Hospital, a government hospital, in Bellville.

According to data released by the Western Cape Department of Health on Tuesday, a marked increase in Covid-19 cases had pushed infection numbers well beyond the peak of the first wave.

As a result of this resurgence, hospitals in the Cape Town Metropole were running at an average occupancy rate of 78%, while rural hospitals are running at an average occupancy rate of 91%.

READ | All the new rules for December: Close beaches, booze restrictions, curfews

"Covid and PUI (patients awaiting Covid-19 test results) cases make up 13% of hospital admissions in the metro and 16% of hospital admissions in the rural areas with both increasing daily.

"The key message is that hospitalisations are rapidly headed toward levels seen at the peak of the first wave. We must also be mindful that this time, we do not have the protection of a lockdown or an alcohol ban," the department said. 

As of Tuesday, 1 733 Covid-19 patients were admitted in acute hospitals, both public and private.

Responding to questions from News24, the department moved to allay fears that government facilities were experiencing ICU bed shortages. 

Data which was supplied indicates that of 332 "critical care beds" across six hospitals, only 80 Covid-19 patients were admitted. 

The data does not traverse occupancy of beds by patients who are not Covid-19 positive, adding to the strain. 


On Friday, Fin24 reported that Life Healthcare’s hospitals in the Eastern Cape, and within the Garden Route, were "... under significant pressure.

"[They] are nearing their maximum capacity to accommodate patients as they continue to provide essential services such as maternity and emergencies for other patients," the Group's General Manager for Emergency Medicine, Charl van Loggerenberg, said. 

The group has already moved to halt elective surgeries in their hospitals in the Eastern Cape.

According to statistics from the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in the City centre, 20 of their 27 available ventilators were in use, with 20 Covid-19 positive patients admitted in ICU, and another 18 in general wards. 

WATCH | Crowd flouts Covid-19 rules at Cape Town concert

While Group CEO Richard Friedland deferred specific questions and requests for data to the Department of Health, he said they have seen a "significant" increase in cases in the Western Cape.

"While we are starting to see a plateau in the admission of Covid-19 patients to our hospitals in the Eastern Cape, we have seen a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the hotspot areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and starting in Gauteng where we expect that admissions may increase further when holidaymakers return to the province from hotspots along the coast." 

"Of concern too, is that we are seeing more severe cases in the second wave," he added.

The rising tide of Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions have seen the sick moved between state and private hospitals because bed space is running out.

READ | Resurgence of Covid-19 in Western Cape

A doctor, who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, said that private hospital patients had been moved to the Karl Bremer state hospital in Bellville.

Furthermore, the source said, elective surgeries in private hospitals had been stalled.


With the healthcare sector in the province rocked, the DA on Thursday launched a court application to challenge Garden Route beach closures.

They asked the court to declare that regulations on beach closures in the Garden Route are unconstitutional, unlawful, and invalid.

It followed an announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that owing to high Covid-19 transmission rates in the Southern Cape, the area would be declared a hotspot, and as a result, beaches would be closed between 16 December and 3 January.

"The DA and our governments across the Western Cape’s coastal municipalities have fought vehemently against any closure of beaches over the festive season, as such a regulation is not in line with the scientific advice available from medical experts and is impossible to enforce," party leader John Steenhuisen said.

Western Cape Health MEC, Nomafrench Mbombo, said that bed space was becoming an ever-scarce commodity and that critical care beds – vital in treating the most gravely afflicted by the pathogen – were bound to be overwhelmed.

This, she said, informed a partnership between private hospital groups in the province to share the load.

National Department of Health spokesperson Lwazi Manzi did not respond to requests for comment.

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