Maverick Citizen

CORONAVIRUS: WESTERN CAPE

‘Relax, we got this,’ says health MEC on Coronavirus

‘Relax, we got this,’ says health MEC on Coronavirus
Staff members in Covid-19 isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Media were invited to tour the Covid-19 isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. It’s been pinpointed by the national Department of Health as one of 10 facilities selected to deal with Covid-19 patients. Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said there was no need to panic as the healthcare system was ready to deal with cases as they arise.

Shortly before the media were due to take a tour of the Covid-19 isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital on 11 March, news broke that the Western Cape had confirmed its first person to test positive for the disease. 

Naturally, there was an air of curiosity about whether the person was somewhere behind the sliding glass doors, but the 36-year-old man from an unconfirmed location in the Western Cape was self-quarantined at home. 

Dr Jantjie Taljaard (Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stellenbosch University), right, Nomafrench Mbombo (Western Cape MEC for Health, left and Zahid Badroodien (City of Cape Town Mayco member for Community Services and Health), left back, during a tour of Tygerberg Hospital’s Covid-19 isolation unit. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

A statement issued by the Department of Health on Wednesday morning said the man had travelled to multiple countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Turkey before returning to South Africa on 9 March. 

“He presented with some flu-like symptoms, went to a private healthcare facility and was quarantined for the last 48 hours until confirmation came through,” said Premier Alan Winde, who briefed media on the announcement, outside the Tygerberg facility.

Tygerberg Hosptial’s Covid-19 isolation unit.
(Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

The Western Cape MEC for Health, Nomafrench Mbombo, said the contact tracing team had been deployed to detect whether others had been infected. 

The team is working with airlines and the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) to trace passengers who may have come into contact with the man. 

Mbombo emphasised that contact tracing is one of the strengths of the South African healthcare system, since they’ve been able to contain the spread of tuberculosis (to some degree). 

The entrance to the Covid-19 section. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

“Our systems are ready where we have to trace the contacts. We identify and we contain,” she said. 

The Tygerberg isolation facility has two separate wards. One is fully operational and has three people admitted while the other is vacant. 

The operational ward, on the tenth floor, is preceded by a large metal gate. We were all given a generous squirt of hand sanitiser as we entered and exited the area. 

A ward in the Covid-19 section. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Both wards have four rooms with en-suite bathrooms.   

Dr Jantjie Taljaard, the head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stellenbosch University, said the hospital did not want to admit people “unnecessarily” but since the disease is at the “containment phase” they had opted to admit the three people.  

“At the moment there’s two options: you can quarantine the person, or isolate the person if they have symptoms and are awaiting their test results.” 

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde at the tour. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Taljaard explained the difference between “quarantine” and “isolation”:

Quarantine is for persons who are asymptomatic but have come into contact with someone who’s tested positive for Covid-19. The standard quarantine period is 14 days to monitor if the person develops symptoms.

Isolation is for someone who shows symptoms (whether or not they are diagnosed). Those who have been tested are also isolated while awaiting their results. 

A precaution kit for staff members in the Covid -19 section.
(Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

“We would have a discussion as with all our patients that have diseases, discuss their home situation, discuss the ability to understand what we’re telling them and then we’d decide together with the patient if they can go home and self-quarantine. There’s very good guidelines that we give them on how to self-quarantine and we have also made a video that we show them beforehand,” said Taljaard.

All healthcare professionals dealing with the patients are given personal protective equipment (PPE) which includes long-sleeve gowns, plastic aprons, rubber gloves, N95 respirators, surgical masks and eye protection (safety goggles). 

Marina Aucamp, the clinical programme director at Tygerberg, explained that the N95 respirators are worn when swab samples are taken from patients for testing. The surgical masks are worn during general interactions with the patients to protect against transmission from coughing or sneezing. 

The result from a Covid-19 test is usually confirmed within 12 hours, depending on the number of tests that need to be validated. 

According to Mbombo, you can go for tests at any health facility in the Western Cape, not just Tygerberg, which is primarily for isolation purposes. 

It was emphasised that wearing surgical masks was an unnecessary measure, but normal hygiene practices were sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus. These include: 

  • Regular handwashing for between 40 and 60 seconds at a time;
  • Avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth;
  • Avoiding close contact with infected people or potentially infected people; and
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue. Once used throw it away.

Some have gone so far as avoiding handshakes. 

“I want to make it clear that South Africa does not have a widespread outbreak of Covid-19 at the moment,” said Taljaard.

On Wednesday 11 March, National Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that six new cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in South Africa, taking the number of cases up to 13.

To date, 645 tests have been conducted, more than 80 of which were in the Western Cape, where one person has tested positive. DM

If you or a loved one are concerned that you may be infected with Covid-19, immediately call the national hotline on 0800 029 999 for advice and assistance.

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