NATIONAL NEWS - Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize has stated that within the coming days, Gauteng is expected to emerge with the highest Covid-19 numbers.
Factors contributing to this trend are inward migration; the large population (especially in metros like Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane); increased congregating which spurs cluster outbreaks; and the level to which people are able to adapt to new behaviours such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.
When the national lockdown was eased to level three, there was a large inward movement of people as economic activities resumed. The surge that has been witnessed in the past two weeks has developed due to seeding of infections carried in by members of the community as they moved back into the workplace.
It was therefore inevitable that there would be cluster outbreaks as infections spilled over from communities into places of congregation such as mines, factories, taxis and busses.
Mkhize stated that it, therefore, remains critical to have well-established screening programmes in place at all junctures where people transition into high-density areas like in the mining sector, where we have observed quite a number of cluster outbreaks as miners return to work.
“We have been engaging the Gauteng MEC for Health as well as the Provincial Department to ramp up their capacity expeditiously,” Mkhize said.
In the next few days, the testing backlog will be cleared and the numbers we see will be based on a shorter turnaround time. The Department of Health has identified the need to increase Covid-19 hospital beds in this province and tjey will be supporting the province to ensure that they are capacitated to meet the rising demands.
In addition to regular hand washing, social distancing and the correct wearing of masks at all times, early case detection, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation are the key armaments the department has in their toolbox to break the cycle of infection. The province is being engaged to strengthen their contact tracing and quarantine/isolation uptake.
The graph below shows Gauteng’s steep upward curve denoting the largest surge in the country at present:
Concerns with regards to the schooling system:
Mkhize stated that here has been a lot of concern about the schooling system and the ability to successfully sustain the reopening of schools. The Department of Health wishes to highlight that the cluster outbreaks that the country is seeing in schools are a result of learners or educators who had unknowingly acquired Covid-19 in their respective communities before returning to school.
It was for this reason that an intense screening and testing programme was instituted in schools to ensure the early identification of cases before they become super-spreader events.
The Department of Health is equally keen to ensure minimal disruption to the school calendar going forward and so they, in collaboration with their experts, are working closely with the Department of Education to strengthen protocols so that schools do not close unnecessarily because of identified cases.
“Overall, we expect that all provinces will start experiencing an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases – even those with low numbers now. We are closely monitoring all districts, whether they are high-transmission or low-transmission areas. Indeed, the differentiated approach emphasized the need to increase monitoring and surveillance in low-transmission areas.” Mkhize said.