SA will not build new hospitals China-style, but will use existing state facilities

(Photo by Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw)
(Photo by Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw)

South Africa will not be building new hospitals to cope with possible increases in the number of Covid-19 cases of hospitalisation, as was the case in China and other parts of the world, but will be utilising existing facilities instead.

Government has approved several possible new sites to be turned into quarantine facilities, among a total of about 50 that were initially selected by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).

It is not clear yet where the approved sites are or how soon they will be made available for use.

This included buildings already owned by government that can be converted into medical facilities and quarantine spaces, as well as buildings owned by the private sector, especially hospital groups.

News24 understands that talks with hospital groups regarding the conversion of some rooms into quarantine areas have been ongoing for some time.

Read: Stop visiting people in hospitals, urges Gauteng health department

Last week, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille said that over 50 sites had been identified across the public and private sectors for potential use as additional quarantine sites.

Over 16 000 beds could potentially be available from these sites, De Lille said, which include holiday destination properties.

Nine state hospitals are currently being used as Covid-19 isolation sites.

De Lille's spokesperson, Zara Nicholson, confirmed to News24 this week that no new facilities would be built in South Africa to accommodate the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, she said that some of the facilities identified by the department to be used as quarantine locations had already been approved for use by the Department of Health.

It was the DPWI that recommended which sites could be used, but the Department of Health needed to decide which could be used, she explained.

Governments around the world struggling to cope

The Department of Health did not respond to questions in this regard, as well as questions about how ready the approved sites are.

Around the world, governments have struggled to cope with the pressure placed on healthcare systems as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

In New York, a Christian organisation is building an emergency hospital in Central Park, according to reports.

In South Africa, a similar situation is not impossible to imagine.

In addition, non-governmental organisations such as Gift of the Givers are on standby to assist with tents and other forms of temporary medical assistance if the need arises.

The organisation's founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, told News24 that it was not necessary to have formal talks with government about its availability to assist in the event of a crisis.

"We've had this informal agreement in place with government for years," said Sooliman.

He said that the organisation was on hand to provide tents, medical equipment and to assist government in any other way should the need arise.

Also read: Coronavirus | How SA medical aids and hospital groups will pitch in

Gift of the Givers is already assisting with equipment and other supplies, as well as providing three tents that are being used as triage entrances to the Gauteng hospitals where the isolation wards are.

Other non-governmental stakeholders are also in discussion with government about what additional resources might be needed.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders spokesperson Sean Christie told News24: "MSF is continuously in discussion with government to assess or predict future needs, from prevention, screening and testing, as well clinical management. MSF will need to assess its capacity to respond to those scenarios which are based on assumptions."

Many countries around the world have constructed new facilities as their own hospitals have been overwhelmed by the number of infected persons needing hospitalisation.

In China, two new hospitals were built in less than a month. However, the success of these projects has been questioned, as the hospitals appeared to be only half full while emergency hospitals were being set up elsewhere in exhibition halls, according to The Guardian.

With over 2 000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, drone pictures recently captured the construction of a new medical facility in Moscow for the hospitalisation of Covid-19 patients, according to reports.

But Nicholson said this would not be the case in South Africa.

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