Mkhize sounds third-wave warning as 'worrying trend' in Covid-19 cases emerges

'We can all play our part to ensure that these rise in infections do not turn into a third wave,' said health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

06 May 2021 - 21:58 By matthew savides
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has warned of a worrying trend of new Covid-19 cases across SA. File photo.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has warned of a worrying trend of new Covid-19 cases across SA. File photo.
Image: GCIS

There is a “worrying trend” emerging across SA, with increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases in multiple parts of the country.

This comes as more than 2,000 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in a 24-hour period for the second day in a row. There were 2,149 new infections recorded on Thursday, up from the 2,073 cases reported on Wednesday.

This hasn't happened since mid-February.

The new infections came from 32,577 tests, at a positivity rate of 6.59%.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday night that 21 districts in seven provinces had seen a more than 20% average increase in cases in the last fortnight. Though some of the districts had low numbers of actual cases, the “significant rise in percentage changes should be taken as a serious warning”.

“In the past two weeks, we have noticed a worrying trend of increasing numbers of detected cases in a number of districts. Free State, Gauteng, Northern Cape and North West are of particular concern but every province, with the notable exception of Eastern Cape, has at least one district of concern,” said Mkhize.

The districts of most concern were:

  • Free State — Mangaung Metro, Fezile Dabi, Xhariep and Lejweleputswa;
  • Gauteng — City of Johannesburg Metro, Sedibeng, Ekurhuleni Metro, and City Of Tshwane Metro;
  • KwaZulu-Natal — eThekwini Metro;
  • Limpopo — Capricorn and Mopani;
  • Mpumalanga — Nkangala and Gert Sibande;
  • North West — Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati, Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Bojanala Platinum;
  • Northern Cape — Pixley Ka Seme, ZF Mgcawu and Frances Baard; and
  • Western Cape — Cape winelands and Overberg.

Mkhize praised the Eastern Cape, where “every district has recorded a zero percent average change”.

“This does not mean they are not getting new infections but it does mean they have maintained a plateau, which is very encouraging. This reinforces the message that we can all play our part to ensure that these rises in infections do not turn into a third wave.

“We all know what it takes to keep the coronavirus at bay — strict wearing of masks, sanitising and avoiding crowded gatherings. The government can facilitate and intervene but ultimately we would rather concentrate on economic recovery than imposing more restrictions. Therefore every citizen must adhere to the non-pharmaceutical interventions if we are to avoid further restrictions,” the minister said.

Mkhize acknowledged the concerns around the possible importation of the B.1.617 variant now dominating in India, where more than 300,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported daily for upwards of a week.

He said that the national coronavirus command council was deliberating on the issue of border control, with their determinations then being discussed with cabinet. But Mkhize said that the variant alone was not the only factor in how fast and deadly the virus's spread would be.

“Scientists around the world do not blame the devastating wave of Covid-19 on the variant alone but always observe that the lack of non-pharmaceutical interventions played a major role in the spread of the variant in that country [India]. Even though the B.1.351, prevalent in our country, has more mutations than the B.1.617, prevalent in India, we were still able to control the spread of B.1.351 in SA and bring the wave down to a plateau.

“Therefore, we have no need to panic about the B.1.617 because, as with any variant of the coronavirus, the treatment is the same and the way we prevent spread is the same,” he said.

Mkhize also revealed that one of the samples taken from a patient who travelled to India and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 had contracted the variant now circulating in SA.

“Our scientists are working hard to examine the samples taken from patients who travelled from India. One of the sequences of a traveller has been completed and it turned out to be the B.1.351 variant — the one that is circulating here in SA. This tells us that one cannot assume that a traveller carries any particular variant and this is why we insist on being guided by the science.

“Having said that, we do share the concerns of our citizens that we could import a variant of concern that can drive another wave. For this reason, the NCCC is deliberating on the issue of border control and final determinations will find expression in the cabinet and be communicated to the public accordingly,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mkhize also provided an update on the latest Covid-19 infection and death figures. He said that 1,590,370 cumulative cases had been confirmed countrywide, as well as 54,620 deaths — an increase of 63 fatalities in the past 24 hours.