Coronavirus: Winde urges Ramaphosa to intervene as labs suffer 'backlogs'

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa to request urgent intervention due to backlogs at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) that are causing delays in test results, he said on Friday.

"Over the past two weeks, the Western Cape has more than doubled the total number of tests conducted as part of a targeted testing strategy aimed at identifying pockets of infection. We understand that as the Western Cape and other provinces have increased their focus on testing, this has placed strain on the NHLS and their resources," Winde said in a statement.

"Among the problems being experienced is a shortage of reagents and test kits which need to be imported from overseas. Policy decisions, such as the decision by the Department of Labour that a person must test negative before being allowed to return to work and other government departments requesting testing for their staff members, place additional strain on the system and further compound the problem."

Winde said he had requested that Ramaphosa intervene to support the NHLS and obtain the reagents and test kits required, as well as to address issues in the policy space.

"As a short-term solution, the Western Cape government has approached the private sector to access any additional available capacity. These labs are, however, also under severe pressure and [do] not offer any realistic short-term relief."

'Cluster outbreaks'

On Thursday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa had 8 232 confirmed novel coronavirus cases.

He said the Western Cape had just below 50% of the number of cases nationally and was experiencing "cluster outbreaks" which needed mechanisms to deal with more strongly to reduce the rate of spread.

Ramaphosa and Mkhize are scheduled to visit the province next week and he is expected to discuss the NHLS matter with them in person, Winde said.

"Given the backlogs and delays, targeted testing is more important than ever, because we need to use every test as effectively as possible. The long delays result in waits of up to seven days for test results - putting extreme stress and pressure on those awaiting their test results," he said.

"In the acute hospital setting and for healthcare workers, we cannot afford to wait that long for test results. The delays in test results also have a knock-on effect, delaying the contact tracing process and increasing the risk of further spread of the virus."

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