KZN north coast 'in holiday mode' despite Covid-19 surge, no hospital beds and oxygen shortage: Medic

28 December 2020 - 13:26 By alex patrick
Ballito beach on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast was pumping on Monday morning. No social distancing and not a mask in sight.
Ballito beach on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast was pumping on Monday morning. No social distancing and not a mask in sight.
Image: Paul Herbst

There are no hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in certain areas of KwaZulu-Natal and not enough oxygen to keep critical patients stable.

That's according to Paul Herbst, IPSS Medical Rescue operations manager who works predominantly in the province's north coast area.

The north coast is experiencing an influx of visitors, predominantly from Gauteng, who do the annual migration during the festive season to enjoy the beaches in Durban all the way up to Kosi Bay on the border of Mozambique.

This, however, is no average year.

Ravaged by the global coronavirus pandemic, KwaZulu-Natal was home to the first Covid-19 patients who arrived back from a holiday in Italy. The recent Matric Rage festival held in Ballito sparked new infections and the town, like many others in SA, is experiencing a sharp increase in new cases as the second wave crashes our festive holidays.

According to Media Hack, a data analysis platform based on information provided by the national department of health and data made public by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), there has been a sharp increase in the number of Covid-19 patients in KwaZulu-Natal with 183,653 cases — 46,710 of them active — and 3,971 deaths recorded.

The province has done 937,373 tests to date at a rate of around 8,303 tests per week.*

But statistics mean nothing to people on the front line.

Herbst expressed his experiences in the last week as “terrible”.

“Bad. Terrible. In the last 48 hours, we've been trying to find hospital beds for our patients. Government hospitals cannot accept any patients.

“Yesterday [Sunday], between all the private and government hospitals in our area [Ballito, Empangeni, Mtubatuba, Richards Bay, Salt Rock, Shaka's Rock, Wetlands Park/Elephant Coast, Umdloti, Umhlanga and Zimbali], they were running out of oxygen.

“There is no oxygen available. They now have to choose who gets oxygen. There are no high care beds available and there are no ventilators. Nothing.”

He said on Sunday IPSS transported patients from Tongaat to Pietermaritzburg (111km), from Tongaat to Kokstad (301km), from Westville to Harrismith (293km) because those were the only available beds for critical patients.

“This morning [Monday] when we did a bed status check, there were no beds available in KwaZulu-Natal.”

He said waves of patients came in a week ago and have been constant for the past seven days.

A private hospital in Ballito at the weekend. The vehicles in the background form a queue for patients coming into the hospital. Patients who were dropped off by public transport wait directly outside the hospital doors for beds.
A private hospital in Ballito at the weekend. The vehicles in the background form a queue for patients coming into the hospital. Patients who were dropped off by public transport wait directly outside the hospital doors for beds.
Image: IPSS Medical Rescue

Herbst said most people IPSS has transported to hospital have been north coast locals.

“They're young [patients]. We've had two deaths below 45 years. Most of the sick people are in their 20s and they are very sick. Severe respiratory distress where oxygen saturation is below the 50-mark.” In healthy patients, oxygen saturation levels lie between 96% and 98%, and levels below this are considered dangerous.

He said most of big estates on the north coast have reported many residents severely ill with the coronavirus.

If you are not in respiratory distress, go to your GP or let them treat you via a telephonic consult. If you require oxygenation or if you are in severe oxygen distress, then go to hospital.
Paul Herbst, IPSS Medical Rescue

“People are not self-isolating. Parents who test positive continue to send their children to community centres or to play with other children. There is no control.”

Herbst's message to those in the area is to stay away from hospitals unless absolutely necessary.

“A lot of people want to go to hospital to test [for Covid-19]. They think if they go to casualty they can test, but it's not going to be like that.

“If you are not in respiratory distress, go to your GP or let them treat you via a telephonic consult. If you require oxygenation or are in severe oxygen distress, then go to hospital.

“The hospitals are being flooded. The casualty sections have been flooded. Beds have been taken up by non-critical patients. Critical patients are having to wait outside in vehicles and ambulances. Ambulances can only carry so much oxygen so people are running out of oxygen in ambulances outside the facilities because the hospital can't give them oxygen.”

He said the other danger was that many people did not know how badly the area was suffering under Covid-19, saying beaches were packed with people not practising social distancing and not wearing masks.

* Media Hack updates the page daily but can only go by data provided by the national health department and the NICD. There are times when information is not updated for weeks in some provinces.

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