The rampant flouting of the lockdown regulations and steady increase in confirmed cases has led to the declaration of uMgungundlovu as one of the Covid-19 hotspots.
This was first revealed by Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize over the weekend.
During Premier Sihle Zikalala’s weekly media briefing on KwaZulu-Natal’s Covid-19 status on Sunday, MEC for Health Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu confirmed that government had some concerns about uMgungundlovu District.
“As of today we have 63 infections. Now that 63 has been steadily growing — when we started these briefings [last month] we were on 36 — so that is a worry,” she said.
These are apparently spread across Msunduzi and uMngeni.
“The fact that people in uMgungundlovu suddenly seem to be flouting all the regulations [is also a concern]. When you go to the major streets in Pietermaritzburg you’d think that it’s Christmas because there are people all over. Everyone is there not even adhering to social distancing,” said Simelane-Zulu.
She said while people wear masks, some of the cloth ones are often dirty because the owners reuse them without bothering to wash them. She said some are even reusing disposable surgical masks.
“It’s a worry that our people seem to think that the regulations are there just for conformity, they don’t realise that this is actually in their best interest.”
Zikalala said they have been observing that since the announcement of the lowering of the national lockdown to level 4, “it’s as if the floodgates have been opened” in different parts of the province.
“Some areas are bustling with activity, and the concept of social distancing has flown out of the window.”
He said there is also increased vehicle traffic.
Others are even plaiting hair on the sidewalks.
“Some people are venturing out of their homes without wearing masks. We are also aware of business operators who have re-opened prematurely, even though they are not exempt from level 4 of the lockdown,” he said.
Zikalala warned that stringent action will be taken, saying law enforcement agencies and the army will be out in full force against offenders.
“We will not be doing it to abuse or victimise people, but to uphold the law, so that Covid-19 can be kept at bay,” he said.
Simelane-Zulu said a campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of wearing masks and how to use them properly is in the works. This comes after reports that some are now taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis by renting out masks.
“They stand outside supermarkets and offer to loan masks for a fee to the elderly who can’t go into shops without wearing one. They then give it back when they leave the shop.
“Now this defeats the purpose of wearing a masks because different people are taking turns wearing it and that could actually transmit the virus if one of them is infected,” she explained.
Zikalala also briefed the media about the ongoing efforts to increase bed capacity. This, he said, is in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent directive as government prepares for the worst possible scenario, and KZN is one of the biggest provinces.
The premier said the Department of Health is renovating and reconfiguring existing clinical spaces in public health facilities to make space for beds for quarantining of patients.
“The private hospital groups are being engaged to also assist in the admission of the Covid-19 clients. While some private hospital groups have already offered assistance, we are continuing to engage all others to ensure that there is enough bed capacity in the province.”
Zikalala said KZN is also in the process of establishing more temporary beds in lodges, resorts and hotels for use as quarantine facilities based on demand.
Currently the province has 2 141 quarantine beds, 3 430 for isolation, 66 in high care wards and 143 for intensive care patients.
“We have also engaged with KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife regarding the roping in of their facilities to further increase capacity. These facilities can be made available within 48 hours on receipt of an official order. A number of other privately-owned facilities have been offered to the department for activation, subject to demand,” he said.
Zikalala said the province has initiated the development of a holistic plan to initiate the economic recovery process. Work streams have been established to analyse the potential sectoral impact of Covid-19 and to identify necessary opportunities and interventions.
“Engagements are being held with the captains of industry to directly collect valuable inputs from all sectors, experts, practitioners, academia, affected individuals and businesses. Findings from this exercise will find expression in the Economic Recovery Plan.”
He said business is supportive of the regulations but feels there is a scope to allow more businesses to operate whilst adhering to health regulations.
“We also want to appeal to business not to exert unnecessary pressure on government. We understand the challenges business is going through but there is a need to balance this with medical and scientific advice to prevent loss of lives,” said Zikalala.