Gauteng scrambles to get more beds for coming Covid-19 peak
An explosion of Covid-19 infection hotspots across Gauteng has caught the provincial government off-guard and left hospitals battling to cope.
Gravely ill patients are flooding medical facilities just as the Nasrec field hospital had downscaled from 1,000 to 500 beds. Now provincial authorities are rushing to ramp up its capacity as well as that of other hospitals ahead of the expected Covid-19 peak in February.
Nasrec is Gauteng's only field hospital.
Authorities are also trying to resolve labour disputes and address shoddy work that halted the addition of hundreds of beds in the AngloGold Ashanti mine hospital on the West Rand and Kopanong Hospital in Vereeniging.
Some hospitals have been expanded, but a lack of staff means some beds remain empty, said Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana.
Modelling by Wits University's School of Physics shows how large parts of Gauteng are being engulfed by the second wave. The school's head, professor Bruce Mellado, said the modelling showed the impact of the second surge would be significantly higher than the first.
"There are 300 hotspots, with the numbers rising," he said.
"Tshwane is particularly concerning. It has a large number of hotspots, especially in Atteridgeville, Mamelodi and Soshanguve.
"Recently, Alexandra, Tembisa, Hillbrow, Newtown, Yeoville and the Soweto suburbs of Pimville and Zola [in Johannesburg] have become major hotspots. Hotspots are not only in high-density areas but now also low-density areas."
Gauteng premier David Makhura said admissions to public hospitals at the beginning of January jumped from 700 to more than 2,400 this week.
"In the last week, fatalities increased significantly," he said.
"The fatalities in the last week of December compared to the first week in January jumped by 135%, and by 155% in the second week of January, with over 400 deaths a week." He said the second wave had not yet reached its peak.
He said super-spreader events in Tshwane involving young people were driving the Gauteng infections.
Makhura said the province had "some disruptions" to its alternative building technology projects to provide beds at the George Mukhari, Jubilee (both in Pretoria), Kopanong and AngloGold Ashanti hospitals.
"We are installing another 1,000 beds at Nasrec," said Makhura's spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga.
He said the Gauteng government had decided not to build field hospitals, but to increase infrastructure at hospitals to be used after the Covid crisis.
He said the disruptions at AngloGold Ashanti were caused mainly by local communities wanting to be subcontracted to the project.
Asked how many beds the province now required, Mhaga said: "You cannot put a number on the beds required. We are dealing with a virus that we cannot totally predict, more especially with the emergence of the new variant.
"We have built 508 additional critical beds since the beginning of the pandemic, up from 373 beds. We have built 1,911 additional general ward beds since the beginning of the pandemic, up from 1,552 beds.
"Currently we have 4,344 beds. By end of January we will have a 150-bed facility in Bronkhorstspruit, outside Tshwane."
Kekana said as demand increased, some hospitals would repurpose wards. She said at the Nasrec field hospital, 400 beds were fitted with oxygen-support systems.
The expansion at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital was complete, "but there are no human resources", Kekana said.
"Jubilee Hospital is completed with 95 beds currently in use, although there are limited human resources. Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital is incomplete and the Kopanong Hospital is incomplete."
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