Covid-19: Mkhize warns of 'calm before a heavy and devastating storm'

01 April 2020 - 21:38 By Sthembile Cele
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Wednesday evening an increase of just 27 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since Tuesday - but warned against complacency.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Wednesday evening an increase of just 27 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since Tuesday - but warned against complacency.
Image: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart

Despite a slowing down in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in SA, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that the current lull could be the “calm before a heavy and devastating storm”.

On Wednesday evening Mkhize announced an increase of just 27 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since Tuesday afternoon — bringing the total figure to 1,380 cases.

Mkhize repeated the death toll of five and said he was not yet in a position up update that figure, despite reports that at least two other Covid-19 deaths had been reported.

He said that 44,202 tests had been conducted, with about 6,000 of those in the public sector.

The minister said that despite the amount of tests sounding impressive, it was still not enough given the country's population, the high rate of poverty and inequality, as well as the “burden of diseases and immune suppression”.

The minister was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of new mobile testing units, which will go out into identified hotspots as government changes tack by taking an offensive approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

According to Mkhize, Gauteng remained the country's Covid-19 epicentre, with 645 confirmed cases. The Western Cape was second with 326, while KZN had 186.

Mkhize has credited the slower increase of known infections to the closure of the country's borders and the elimination of public gatherings through the nationwide lockdown.

He warned, however, that the next few days would be critical ahead of an onslaught that in part could be bought about by the onset of the flu season, which will see many exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

This may be the calm before a heavy and devastating storm. We may not get further warnings before the pounding descends.
Dr Zweli Mkhize

“This may be the calm before a heavy and devastating storm,” he said. “We may not get further warnings before the pounding descends.”

Working in conjunction with MECs and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), he said the department would concentrate mobile testing on identified hotspots where the virus could spread rapidly or undetected.

“Up until now, the testing criteria of patients with symptoms has been reactive and restrictive — you have to show up with symptoms in order to be tested,” he said.

This was changing, he said. “Rather than waiting for patients to come to hospital, we are going to go out and find people. That is the point of these vans going out. We are focusing on dismantling the infection cycle by being proactive as opposed to reactive.”

Every province has been tasked with identifying experienced health professionals to lead Covid-19 teams in provincial campaigns. Additional hospital beds will also be sourced, as well as more quarantine sites for those who are unable to self-isolate at home.

Mkhize also wants every town to have a dedicated treatment centre, which deals exclusively with Covid-19.

At the briefing, Mkhize said that reinforcements were also being sought from China and Cuba. The minister said that Cuba had a successful community-based health model, which the department of health would look to imitate.

Mkhize called on South Africans to remain vigilant and not become complacent, despite the current results. He has called upon community leaders and civil society organisations to roll up their sleeves and assist the government in rolling out the massive testing and screening campaign.

He said that the lockdown and pre-lockdown restrictions were seemingly making a difference in keeping the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in SA a lot lower than originally predicted.

He was answering a question on the worst-case scenario for Covid-19 cases.

He said a team was looking at modelling around the numbers.

“The figures are ... focused on positive tests. In terms of those figures, they would anticipate by April 2 we could be around maybe 4,000 and 6,000. But if there was no lockdown, that figure could have gone up to 7,000. Maybe in about three weeks, they anticipated about 16,000 — but because of the lockdown, the figures are completely different from that.

“But it's early days and there's a lockdown — your model is bound to be disrupted.”

He said this didn't mean there was room for complacency.

“We are saying that at the moment, these numbers are what we have been given and they are not close to where they could have been if there wasn't an intervention. We cannot be complacent. There will not be a warning when the situation changes. We must always have our foot on the pedal,” he said.


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