Eastern Cape's Covid-19 nightmare could see 9 000 'unavoidable' deaths - experts

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An emergency paramedic wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) waits outside the Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth.
An emergency paramedic wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) waits outside the Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth.
Marco Longari, AFP
  • The Eastern Cape’s Covid-19 peak is expected in October.
  • A provincial project management unit has said capacity needs to be increased to deal with Covid-19 infections in the province.
  • The Eastern Cape now has the third highest rate of infections in the country with 66 759 cases.

The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to ravage the Eastern Cape as experts anticipate close to 9 000 "unavoidable" deaths.

On top of the high anticipated death rate at its peak expected later in the year, the Eastern Cape's public hospitals need 1 796 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for peak demand - it currently has 230 critical care beds.

These figures were presented by Dr Sibongile Zungu during a sitting of Parliament's Health Committee on Wednesday.

Zungu was appointed head of the newly created project management unit in the Eastern Cape.

Ian Sanne, a member of the unit, said at its peak, active symptomatic cases in the province would rise to approximately 90 000.

He said during the peak 5 418 general ward hospital beds would be needed and 1 796 ICU beds.

"There is an anticipated 9 000 deaths in the province. Albeit unfortunate and a very sad term, these are unavoidable deaths. These are deaths that will occur despite intervention and relate to the nature of the disease. However, we are concerned that if we do not increase the capacity in the Eastern Cape, the number of deaths will exceed 9 000," he said.

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In the Alfred Nzo, Amathole and Joe Gqabi districts there are no critical care beds available.

Sanne said there would be further consultative processes to support implementation needs.

"The field hospital number have not been included so there is indeed additional capacity in the province. The more remote districts have no critical care beds at this time. Routinely they refer patients to the metros. Even if we only take 50% of the demand into account, we already have a substantive deficit in medical care capacity," he said.

"We are likely to need another field hospital in the Buffalo City metro, not because their deficit is massive, but because of the referral rate at these facilities," Sanne said.

READ ALSO | Eastern Cape to turn museums, hostels into field hospitals to combat risky self-isolation behaviour

The Eastern Cape now has the third highest rate of infections in the country with 66 759 cases, 945 deaths and 47 263 recoveries.

Gauteng has the highest infection rate, followed by the Western Cape.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said there were 3 536 new beds that would be distributed across the province.

She said the Nelson Mandela Bay metro has 350 beds, excluding the beds in the field hospitals.

"Sarah Baartman has 142 new beds added, Buffalo City has 280 new beds. Chris Hani has 412 beds and Joe Gqabi has 66 beds. OR Tambo has 333, Alfred Nzo has 160 beds and Amathole has 215. Within the 3 536 (beds), 1 613 are field hospital beds and we have areas that we have repurposed and rebuilding some old hospitals. Some of our field hospitals have opened," she said.

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