Eastern Cape must 'act with speed' to curb Covid-19 spread: Mkhize

11 June 2020 - 19:38 By MPUMZI ZUZILE
Health minister Zweli Mkhize and Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba at a previous media briefing in April. Mkhize was back in the province on Thursday.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize and Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba at a previous media briefing in April. Mkhize was back in the province on Thursday.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has called on the Eastern Cape to move with speed to make sure it has all necessary facilities and staff to deal with Covid-19.

After receiving an update report on the situation in the OR Tambo district, Mkhize said: “From the point of view of the report, I’m comfortable that you are moving on the right track. [You] just need to act with speed now.”

Mkhize said the infection rate in the Eastern Cape should serve as a huge warning of things to come.

The province has the second-highest number of Covid-19 related deaths in the country. It also has the third-highest number of confirmed cases, behind only the Western Cape and Gauteng - and this despite doing significantly fewer tests.

Mkhize is in the Eastern Cape to assess its response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are now 58,568 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in SA, he said on Thursday. This was an increase of 3,157 cases from the 55,421 announced on Wednesday night. Mkhize also announced another milestone in the country's fight against Covid-19, with more than
1 million tests now having been done.

The latest death figures were still being collated, the ministry said, but by Wednesday evening there were 1,210 confirmed coronavirus-related fatalities.

The minister’s visit to the province came just days after he warned that the province was now following the same worrying infection curve as the Western Cape.

“The numbers are going to continue to grow. Our intention is not to stop the virus from spreading, but reducing the rate at which it does. The numbers in OR Tambo are increasing and we are now looking at it as a hotspot,” he said.

“The numbers in the Eastern Cape are rising. Whilst we know the numbers are increasing, we’d like them to increase at a slower rate. The risk now is as we are moving to the lower levels the cluster outbreaks are going to increase.”

We need community stakeholders. The battle is now in the community.
Dr Zweli Mkhize

He called on leadership - including cabinet ministers, directors-general and other senior government officials - to be in the districts where they were needed.

“The closer we are together, the more helpful it will be. This is not the time to be complacent. Some people have the wrong impression of easing the lockdown - they think you can behave anyhow now that [the] level has reduced. That is not the case.”

He called on South Africans to change their behaviour to protect themselves and those around them. He said the use of masks was vital, including cloth masks, provided they were worn properly - but this on its own "is not enough".

"Wash your hands regularly. Sanitise and keep surfaces clean. All of this reduces infections. We need community stakeholders. The battle is now in the community."

Acknowledging the testing backlog, Mkhize said people must not underestimate the fact that his department and the private sector have carried out a lot of tests.

“The delay in a test should not undermine the treatment a person receives. We need to engage the communities and traditional leaders. We need to also deal with the issue of stigma. People need to disclose their symptoms and those that are positive need to disclose their status,” he said.

Earlier, Eastern Cape MEC Sindiswa Gomba said Mkhize was in the province at the department's request.

“We called on the minister as we need his assistance and guidance. We are experiencing some challenges,” she said.

This week nurses at Tafalofefe Hospital, in Butterworth, left patients unguarded after complaining of not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

Last week, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said the province is in a process of constructing eight field hospitals with the assistance of national department.

This will boost the number of available ICU beds in the province, and add 500 beds per district, which includes those made available by private hospitals.

The old Mthatha Airport hangars, Buffalo City Stadium and a number of other state properties will be converted into isolation and quarantine sites.

Last week more than 840 of the 1,000 additional nurses reported for duty in the various health districts.

About 60 were sent to Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay, where the trauma unit this week had to be closed due to staff shortages.

At the other identified hotspot, the Buffalo City metro, 59 nurses were deployed at Frere Hospital, with Chris Hani and the OR Tambo region sharing the rest.

Currently the province has 70 ICU and high-care beds available, falling short of the planned 155. An ICU bed includes a ventilator, monitor and dedicated specialist nurse.

More than 600 beds have also been delivered to the province as part of the government's plan to fight the pandemic.

This week the department increased the number of community health workers from 4,600 to 10,000 - many of whom will start work from Monday, including at the field hospitals planned for the province.