Increased testing behind alarming Covid-19 surge in Northern Cape, says premier

02 June 2021 - 14:45
The Northern Cape reported 171 positive cases per 100,000 people last week - the highest in SA. Stock photo.
The Northern Cape reported 171 positive cases per 100,000 people last week - the highest in SA. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

A dramatic increase in Covid-19 testing capacity is the major reason the Northern Cape  reported a surge in the number of positive cases.

Northern Cape premier Dr Zamani Saul said at a briefing in Kimberley on Wednesday that about 905 Covid-19 tests per 100,000 people were being done every day, putting the province in the number one slot in SA for the number of tests being carried out.

“I think the high levels of positivity in the province are due to our ramped-up capacity to test,” he said. “When you ramp up your capacity to test for Covid, it results in more people testing positive. I can still remember there was a [time] we could not even test 4,000 people a month.”

The province was now able to test between 12,000 and 30,000 people every month, he said.

Last week, the province carried out 13,000 tests, recording 171 positive cases per 100,000 people — the highest in the country — said acting health department head Riaan Strydom. 

By comparison, Free State recorded 105 positive cases per 100,000 people, while Gauteng registered 71 cases per 100,000 people.

However, Strydom noted that the “R-number” — which measures the disease’s ability to spread between people — had dropped.

“We have seen a decline since May 3, when our R-number was 1.41 in the province, to 0.84 on May 29,” he said. “It’s a good improvement for us because it means somewhere we are winning.”

Prof Barry Schoub, a member of the vaccines advisory committee, told TimesLIVE on Friday that the Northern Cape was certainly well into a third wave. 

“We always thought that when the weather gets cold and people misbehave that we were going to get a third wave and both of those have happened,” he said.

However, he said it was too early to tell if the third wave would be more severe than the second.

Saul said increased case management, in which people who had developed symptoms and had gone to seek help, had also resulted in an increase in hospital admissions over the past two weeks.

Admissions to hospitals, however, had remained stable, though there had been a slight increase in admissions to intensive care.

“This is putting increasing pressure on the intensive care facilities,” he said, adding that hospitals were seeking additional specialised nurses.

The province had also completed upgrading 15 of its 20 critical healthcare facilities with improved oxygen supplies.

There were also adequate supplies of PPE to ensure the safety of healthcare workers during the coming surge.

Saul said the mortality rate of 22 people per 1,000 cases was one of the lowest in the country.

The Northern Cape has reported 1,100 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began, 550 of those since the beginning of the year. About 64% of the deaths were people over the age of 60 and 79% of them had comorbidities.

Strydom blamed social gatherings for the province’s surge in infections. “Funerals, private parties and birthdays have been the main causes,” he said.

There had also been some cluster outbreaks in old age homes.

“We welcome the level 2 lockdown that was announced by the president,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the province was forging ahead with its vaccination rollout. A total of 15,666 people have been vaccinated in the province: 9,640 healthcare workers vaccinated under the Sisonke programme and 6,026 people who have had the jab in the phase 2 rollout.

A total of 27,038 people have registered for the vaccine so far.

Due to the cold-chain logistics needed for the Pfizer vaccine, the second phase has been concentrated on the biggest population centres of Kimberley, Upington and Kuruman, said Strydom.

“Pfizer does give us a bit of a unique challenge in terms of the cold chain temperatures but we have wasted less than 2% of the doses,” he said.

The accepted wastage figure was about 10%.

The province planned to roll out the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine when stocks became available, as the logistics would be easier to manage.



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