Zweli Mkhize on level 4, testing and 'hard lockdown'

29 April 2020 - 11:30 By Cebelihle Bhengu
Health minister Zweli Mkhize explained the government's reasons for dropping the lockdown level from level 5 to level 4 from Friday May 1.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize explained the government's reasons for dropping the lockdown level from level 5 to level 4 from Friday May 1.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Tuesday outlined the progress made in flattening the Covid-19 infection curve and the reasons behind easing the lockdown to level 4 from Friday May 1.

His deputy, Joe Phaahla, members of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and provincial MECs joined the minister in the virtual briefing via Zoom.

Here are six takeouts from his address.

Underlying conditions

Diabetes and hypertension pose a threat to Covid-19 sufferers.

“We have a burden of hypertension, 4.5-million people in SA have diabetes. Such diseases factor in Covid-19 infection. The country has 4,996 cases of Covid-19.”

No need for hard lockdown 

SA will on Friday May 1 move from level 5 of the lockdown to level 4. This will allow some economic activity to resume and more than 1-million citizens to return to work. Mkhize said the government now needed to monitor the lockdown in its different phases rather than continue with the hard lockdown.

Every day, hundreds of Covid-19 testers are at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus in South Africa. For Bhelekazi Mdlalose, nursing is more than just a job, it is a passion. Mdlalose is a registered nurse and Covid-19 tester working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in partnership with the Department of Health. TimesLIVE followed a day in her life to see what it is like being in the frontline amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Even if we made the lockdown longer, it would not have pushed the curve much further than where it is already. At the point at which the president said we need to ease the lockdown, it was based on scientific projections that when the lockdown is eased, calculations proved there were not going to be more benefits if we went further than that.”


The deployment of community health-care workers has helped increase the number of tests conducted to 185,000, 25,000 of which were done in public laboratories.

“This tells us there has been a huge increase in the number of samples tested. There are three groups of people that we are testing, which are those who go to the private sector, those treated in the public sector because they have symptoms and those who are referred from public screening programmes.”

Safety measures must be adhered to 

Mkhize emphasised that maintaining high levels of hygiene and wearing face masks to prevent the contraction and spread of the virus remained important.

“While there is a lockdown and we have stopped large gatherings and movements, the trend of Covid-19 has been of a communal spread. In China, about 75% of the spread was in family and group settings so we believe that aspect will continue even though people are on lockdown. People need to understand the message of putting on masks, hand sanitation and physical distance.”

Factors influencing easing of lockdown

Saving the economy and jobs, and food security were some of the factors considered by the government before easing the lockdown.

“Food security, income security and balancing of the economy have been important and all these come in, in ensuring how we make sure we contain the pandemic but at the same time ensure than people lead sustainable lives.”

PPE for health-care professionals

Mkhize said the government, generally, has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care professionals, though at times it runs out because of the high global demand.

“PPE tends to be a moving target. One time you have enough, one time you're running short, particularly now that the whole world is looking for the gear. We're also seeing a huge spiral in prices, however with the stock available we're assured it's adequate and we'll be able to share it with all the institutions we work with.”

TimesLIVE followed Dr Fallin van Rooyen on her night shift on the frontline of Mitchells Plain District Hospital's emergency centre. According to Van Rooyen, gunshot traumas and stabbings have “reduced dramatically” since the ban on alcohol was introduced. During the month of February, before lockdown, the emergency centre saw 245 trauma patients coming through their doors. However, a month after lockdown, by April 27, that number almost halved to 128.