KZN Health reopens field hospital as Covid beds fill up

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One of the cubicles in the field hospital that was set up in the exhibition halls at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.
One of the cubicles in the field hospital that was set up in the exhibition halls at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.

As hospitals in the uMgungundlovu District battle to cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients, the Health Department is putting measures in place to transfer patients from Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas to hospitals as far away as Newcastle.

The spike in infections has also caused the province to recommission the field hospital at the Royal Showgrounds in the city, which is expected to provide 254 beds.

Briefing the media on Wednesday, Kwa-Zulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said while most rural hospitals still had enough beds, health facilities in districts such as eThekwini and uMgungundlovu were on the verge of running out.

Out of the 3 477 Covid-19 beds in the province, 2 289 were currently occupied, representing a 66% occupancy.

“We are ... confident that the restrictions on liquor trade, enforcement of the wearing of masks, as well as the stricter curfew, will help change our situation around quite soon.”
Kwa-Zulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu.

While there were still 34% of Covid-19 beds available, Simelane-Zulu said most of the unoccupied beds were in small towns and rural areas.

The situation, she added, allowed for “intra-district transfer of Covid-19 patients where there is pressure”.

“For instance, patients at Ugu District can easily be transferred to Harry Gwala District; and uMgungundlovu patients to uThukela District and so on,” she said.

Simelane-Zulu was speaking amid reports that the bed supply situation has reached crisis levels in the province, with patients being turned away and bodies lying outside mortuaries.

However, Simelane-Zulu said the reports, mainly circulating on social media, were an exaggeration.

“Yes, the public healthcare system is under pressure, and so are our counterparts in the private sector. And yes, the situation is not normal, and far from ideal. But to claim that there are no beds or mortuary space is disingenuous, misleading and completely unnecessary,” she said.

ALSO READ | Covid 19 spike: Many private hospitals full patients sent to public hospitals health minister.

The new Covid-19 wave hit the province and the country a few weeks after the provincial government had discontinued its Royal Showgrounds field hospital project meant to provide more than 200 Covid-19 beds.

Simelane-Zulu said the spike in infections accompanied by the pressure on hospital beds has forced the provincial government to reconsider its decision on the field hospital.

“The Royal Showgrounds, which will give us 254 beds, is being recommissioned and is expected to be functional in the next two weeks,” she said.

The rapid spread of Covid-19 infections last week saw the province record more than 4 000 cases a day.

However, Simelane-Zulu said the infections seem to be stabilising, with the province on Tuesday recording 2 835 new cases. “Sadly, over the past 24 hours, 144 people lost their lives due to Covid-19, bringing the overall tally to 4 278,” she said.

ALSO READ | Healthcare unions worried that hospitals will not cope.

Yesterday The Witness reported that the uMgungundlovu District was quickly running out of burial space due to the sharp increase in Covid-19 related deaths.

The sharp increase in infections saw President Cyril Ramaphosa banning the sale of alcohol, which has been blamed for non-compliance with Covid-19 protocols and the influx of patients to hospitals.

Simelane-Zulu said the provincial government was optimistic that the reintroduction of the ban on the sale of alcohol and other restrictions under level 3 lockdown announced by Ramaphosa on Monday would help turnaround the situation.

“We are ... confident that the restrictions on liquor trade, enforcement of the wearing of masks, as well as the stricter curfew, will help change our situation around quite soon,” she said.

There were currently 324 Covid-19 beds in public health facilities across the uMgungundlovu District.

Out of the 324, 164 are for isolation, 24 are for ICU patients while two are for patients requiring high care.

Simelane-Zulu said 125 of the 324 Covid-19 beds in the district were currently occupied. Of the 125 Covid-19 patients, eight are on oxygen, while nine are on ventilators.

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