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SA's Covid-19 cases and deaths rise as department admits to testing backlogs

29 May 2020 - 00:32 By Matthew Savides
Western Cape premier Alan Winde has a Covid-19 test in this file photo. The health ministry has admitted to a backlog of tens of thousands of tests.
Western Cape premier Alan Winde has a Covid-19 test in this file photo. The health ministry has admitted to a backlog of tens of thousands of tests.
Image: Twitter/Alan Winde

For the second day in a row, the number of new Covid-19 cases increased by significantly more than 1,000 - taking the national tally to 27,403 (up from 25,935 on Wednesday).

There was also another significant jump in the number of Covid-19 related deaths, with 25 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours. This means that 577 South Africans have now died from the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize admitted in a statement issued shortly after midnight that SA was suffering from a backlog of tests.

He said that, as of May 27, 634,996 tests had been conducted across the country. But of those, “a total of 29,948 tests reflects a backlog of unallocated tests”.

The ministry said that when specimens were collected, that were not always processed immediately - “resulting in a backlog in tests”.

“This means tests are not concluded on the same day when the specimen is received. The number of days it takes to clear those specimen remains variable,” said the statement.

Earlier, there was confusion over the extent of the backlog. Western Cape premier Alan Winde said that there was a backlog of 100,000 tests, while the health department's acting director-general Dr Anban Pillay told parliament that there was a backlog of about 80,000 - and then Mkhize told that same parliamentary meeting that the backlog was about 30,000.

In the latest statement, the health ministry seemed to suggest that all three were correct.

The statement said Pillay was right based on the current backlog, and that the figure cited by Winde was also correct in that the “exact figure of specimens that have not been processed is 96,480 as at May 25 2020".

It said Mkhize's figure of 30,000 was also correct because he was referring to the number of tests conducted versus the specimens collected but not yet processed, which “fluctuates on a daily basis”.

“As we have previously explained, this [backlogs] challenge is caused by the limited availability of test kits globally (that is, inadequate supply of extraction kits and high throughputs of PCR kits). It must be acknowledged that this capacity issue is a global challenge.

“It is on this basis that, while specimens to test for Covid-19 are being collected from the community screening campaign, priority is being given to processing specimens that are received from patients who are admitted in hospital and health care workers,” the statement read.

The provincial breakdown of cases, deaths and recoveries was on Thursday provided as:

  • Western Cape — 17,754 cases, 406 deaths, 9,157 recoveries;
  • Gauteng — 3,329 cases, 31 deaths, 1,993 recoveries; 
  • Eastern Cape — 3,306 cases, 77 deaths, 1,700 recoveries;
  • KwaZulu-Natal — 2,349 cases, 50 deaths, 1,180 recoveries;
  • Free State — 225 cases, 8 deaths, 123 recoveries;
  • Limpopo — 144 cases, 3 deaths, 75 recoveries;
  • North West — 134 cases, 1 death, 45 recoveries;
  • Mpumalanga — 111 cases, 0 deaths, 67 recoveries; and
  • Northern Cape — 51 cases, 1 death, 30 recoveries.