New team of doctors being roped in to help exhausted teams: Zweli Mkhize

11,256 Covid patients are currently hospitalised

29 December 2020 - 12:30 By Amanda Khoza
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says relief teams will help strained medical staff. File image
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says relief teams will help strained medical staff. File image
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

Hospitals are filling up, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday, as he again pleaded with South Africans “not to let their guards down” under the newly implemented level 3 lockdown regulations.

Mkhize was briefing the media a day after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he was placing the country on alert level 3 with immediate effect after recommendations made by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), the president’s co-ordinating council (PCC) and the cabinet.

Mkhize said the number of infections “was really getting out of hand”.

“The hospitals are getting full, at the moment all the private hospitals are full and now people need to be transferred to government hospitals,” he said.

Mkhize announced that in a few days, the government will be welcoming 2,367 medical interns and 1,693 medical community service practitioners who will form part of a 7,895-strong community service workforce from all categories.

“This will provide relief to our exhausted front-line workers.”

On the supply of personal protective equipment for them, he said: “Currently, overall availability of PPE is at 87.1%. We encourage [health-care] unions to access the dashboard and use the stock visibility system to assist us with stock surveillance and movement and continue to be active participants in OHS [occupational health and safety] committees as was jointly resolved over the course of the pandemic.”

He said the reason the government put a stop to the sale of alcohol was because once people consume alcohol, they tend to forget that they have to social distance.

“The alcohol ban will greatly assist to reduce the trauma burden on our facilities over the festive season and save lives.

“The reason the hospitals are also full is because people hurt each other, they stab each other and there are accidents and in there are people who have Covid-19 and we don’t know who to prioritise.”

He said the government was monitoring the new variant of the coronavirus, how it was spreading and behaving.

“What is important is that we do not let our guard down, we need to be careful.

“There are plans in place to get the vaccine, I think we should have it by April. Those who will be prioritised will be the health-care workers and then those with underlying health issues.”

Providing an update on the number of infections in SA, Mkhize said: “Yesterday we reported 1,011,871 cumulative cases with over 7,000 new cases. In this last epidemiological week we have surpassed the peak of the first wave and we had indicated that the epidemiological picture would compel us to tighten restrictions.”

He said a majority of new cases are from KwaZulu-Natal with 2,275 (30.5%) followed by the Western Cape at 2,191 cases (29.4%), Gauteng at 1,849 cases (24.8%) and Eastern Cape at 384 cases (5.1%).

“The overall positivity for the newly tested individuals is 32.9%, with Western Cape at 45.6%, followed by Limpopo at 41%, KwaZulu-Natal at 36% and Mpumalanga at 33.1%. These positivity rates are extremely high and are a major concern.”

Overall, he said the government needed to test more and target a positivity rate of 10% or less.

A total of 11,256 patients are currently hospitalised — this is 8.3 % of active cases. Of these, 3,543 are on oxygen and 604 are on ventilators.

“According to the resurgence thresholds, the majority of districts in SA are in response phase — this means greater than or equal to 20% increase in new Covid-19 cases compared to seven days prior (based on the seven-day moving average) or greater than or equal to a total of 30 cases per 100,000 population in the last seven days (there must have been a minimum total of 10 cases per 100,000 population in the last seven days).”

Mkhize urged the nation to continue wearing masks, particularly in taxis and buses. “We need to open the windows a little bit so that the air circulates. Everyone needs to know that this is in our hands. We need to be careful what we touch because that is how we spread the virus.”

He asked South Africans to respect the rules and regulations that need to be followed once they have tested positive with Covid-19. “Especially the youth, they are the ones who go out and are exposed to other people and then when they come back, they infect the elderly who have been sitting inside and have not gone anywhere.”

Mkhize said the government was also cognisant of the non-Covid related services that need to continue.

“We are still rolling out our catch-up programmes to ensure that other essential health services continue to be delivered and remind the public that our facilities remain open for non-Covid related consultations with triage mechanisms to ensure that patients are not exposed to Covid-19 while visiting our facilities.

“We do not want a situation where we bring Covid-19 under control, only to find that other major public health burdens become exacerbated by neglect.”

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