Coronavirus

Unions red-flag health worker Covid infections as Gauteng scrambles for staff, beds 

By Rebecca Pitt 8 January 2021

Spokesperson for Premier David Makhura, Vuyo Mhaga, said that Gauteng wants to increase the bed capacity in hospitals before a rise in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks. (Illustrative image | Sources: Adobe Stock, Flickr)

Gauteng’s health response for the coming weeks, in which the province expects a spike in Covid-19 cases, is still a work in progress. The Provincial Command Council cancelled a media briefing when a special meeting was called on Thursday. 

Rebecca Pitt

Gauteng is desperate to ensure it has enough healthcare workers and beds and can continue to screen motorists as they enter the province.

The Provincial Command Council (PCC) was due to update the media on the Covid-19 situation in Gauteng on Thursday, 7 January, but postponed the briefing when Premier David Makhura called a special PCC meeting, said the premier’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga.

Gauteng has been under scrutiny this week as the healthcare system struggles under the growing challenge of the virus.

Gauteng had 35,727 active cases as of 6 January, with 5,754 new cases reported and 3,481 admitted to public and private hospitals. 

A “concerning” number of healthcare workers in the province are contracting the virus, said Clement Marule, the Gauteng coordinator for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu). 

Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for Health MEC Bandile Masuku, said that between 15 December and 5 January, 1,286 Gauteng Health Department employees contracted the virus and 26 have died. 

Marule said that between mid-December and 4 January, at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital 19 workers tested positive and one death was recorded; in the Ekurhuleni hospitals 89 workers tested positive with three deaths; and in Dr George Mukhari Hospital 94 tested positive and three died. 

Since the country went into Level 1 lockdown “we dropped our guard as a nation”.

Marule told Daily Maverick the trade unions were looking forward to a briefing by the province’s health department and the MEC on the plan to combat the second wave: “We are working very hard to have it [Friday] or Monday or Tuesday.”

Soaring levels

Premier Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, said that “currently we have hospital beds but hospitalisation numbers continue to increase”. 

According to Mhaga, Gauteng wants to increase the bed capacity in hospitals before a rise in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks. 

The Nasrec field hospital was also operational, with “1,200 beds and 380 piped-oxygen beds and 30 oxygen concentrators”. It was currently using 508 beds, with 70 patients admitted as of 7 January. They included “patients in isolation, in quarantine and those on oxygen”.

Although the province has recently been criticised for not having enough personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals, Mhaga said there is enough. 

Gauteng was also under scrutiny in 2020 for Covid-19 corruption after the PPE scandal and the alternative building technology used for an ICU field hospital project, a Maverick Citizen investigation revealed.

Mhaga said hospitals in the province had enough oxygen ports to meet the need, and “we are also recruiting additional staff”.

Motorists were being screened and tested at roadblocks at all entry points to the province, “to spread the message of keeping safe”. 

Covid update

The country had reached a “grim milestone”, passing  20,000 new daily cases, said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

As of 6 January, 21,832 new cases were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 1,149,591. KwaZulu-Natal recorded 76,993 active cases and the Western Cape 41,356. A further 844 deaths were reported countrywide. DM

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