SA’s Covid-19 cases rise by 80 in a day – as health minister warns of ‘calm before the storm’

By Rebecca Davis 3 April 2020

Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Makagoe)

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday night that SA’s confirmed coronavirus cases now stand at 1,462 – an increase of 80 within 24 hours. Although these figures are still relatively low, Mkhize said that there was no room for complacency.

As of 2 April, South Africa has 1,462 confirmed coronavirus cases. The largest number of the latest cases are in the Western Cape (27), KwaZulu-Natal (20), and Gauteng (18).

The other provinces recorded single-digit increases: eight in Free State, two in the Eastern Cape, two in Limpopo, one in Mpumalanga. There were no recorded cases in North West or Northern Cape, but four cases have yet to be allocated to a province.

As Health Minister Zweli Mkhize gave the latest figures on Thursday night, he again warned the South African public that the relatively low figures gave no room for complacency.

“These are still very early days. We are only just starting,” Mkhize said.

The minister indicated that a particular concern is that South Africa’s flu season is approaching fast, which could weaken immune systems. He urged the public to stay warm and take nutritional supplements if possible, while also adhering to the regulations of the lockdown.

Mkhize made it clear that the government and the South African health system is still braced for a possible deluge of coronavirus cases.

“We are calling on all hospitals to reduce numbers of patients,” Mkhize said, adding that chronic medication should be made available for several months in advance to cut down on hospital visits.

Mkhize’s press briefing took place at the Universitas Hospital in Mangaung, Free State. The health minister visited the hospital on Thursday to inspect its readiness for coronavirus patient intake.

“This area is of concern,” Mkhize said, due to the large church gathering which took place in Mangaung a few weeks ago which was found to have hosted coronavirus-positive people.

Of the 86 Covid-19 cases confirmed to date in Free State, 77 have been in Mangaung.

“A lot must be done in the next two weeks in this particular area,” said Mkhize.

He said that teams manning mobile testing units had already embarked on a “wall to wall approach where they test as many people as possible”.

Earlier, doctors from the Universitas Hospital’s coronavirus task team gave some detail about the measures being instituted in the facility. They include the establishment of a neonatal ward specifically for coronavirus-positive mothers, the extension of the hospital’s ICU ward to accommodate 86 beds, and the training of everyone in the hospital on how to deal with coronavirus patients.

The hospital has also set up a simulation unit in which doctors have been training to handle Covid-19 cases.

Dr Nicholas Pearce, the chairperson of the hospital’s coronavirus task team, said that the hospital was collaborating with regional universities to obtain 3D print masks for use by healthcare workers. They are hoping to print masks at the rate of 300 a day to be sent to outlying hospitals.

Pearce said that the production of new locally-designed “face mask visors” was also being fast-tracked, with the aim being to print 33,000 in total for clinicians doing aerosolised procedures, which exposes them to additional coronavirus transmission risk.

Although the hospital is ready, Pearce said the most important message he could pass on to the public at this time was: “Please, the best solution to this is: don’t get the virus.”

Mkhize expressed satisfaction with the preparedness of the facility.

“I am very impressed with the level of confidence of our own clinicians,” he said.

“These ideas are going to be helpful beyond this particular hospital.”

The health minister said that in general, he was “very happy” that South African health facilities are preparing so robustly for the possibility of a flood of coronavirus patients.

“This is the calm before the storm,” Mkhize said.

But, in the best-case scenario, “the storm never really ends up happening”. DM


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