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Eastern Cape premier raises alarm over impact of Easter...



Eastern Cape premier raises alarm over impact of Easter travel on coronavirus infections

People heading back to the Eastern Cape for the Easter weekend board buses and minibuses at Joe Gqabi in Philippi, one of Cape Town's major public transport interchanges. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

While Premier Oscar Mabuyane raised his concerns last week that increased traffic to the Eastern Cape as people return home for the Easter weekend might see an increase in Covid-19 infections, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality announced that it too has seen an increase in Covid-19 in parts of the city where a wastewater surveillance programme was implemented.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has raised his concern that a third wave of coronavirus infections might be triggered by Easter long weekend travel to the province.

The province currently has the lowest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, with just 220 and an incidence of lower than five per 100,000 in all districts but the Buffalo City metro.

“We have witnessed a sustained decline of new Covid-19 cases in February and March,” Mabuyane said on 30 March. “What has worked wonders for us, in particular, has been the mandatory wearing of masks in public places, the enforcement of social distancing measures and the limitations on the number of people who attend gatherings. We are encouraged by the significant decline in Covid-19 related deaths and hospitalisation numbers. This has considerably reduced stress in our health system. In the last 24 hours, no death was reported in the province. In the current month, there are fewer SARS-CoV-2 cases and related deaths but a higher case fatality rate of 8.5%. There are currently 98 patients admitted for Covid-19 illnesses in our province; 48 patients are in public healthcare facilities and 50 are in private healthcare facilities. This huge reduction in the number of admitted Covid-19 patients is allowing the department of health space to focus on revitalising interventions to contain and manage other priority diseases. 

“We continue to conduct Covid-19 tests and in the last 31 days, we have conducted 16,000 Covid-19 tests,” he added. “The National Laboratory Health Services reported 82% of the test results within 24 hours, and over 90% of tests were received within 48 hours. This demonstrates the excellent capacity in our national laboratory services. On average, we had less than 15 cases a day and the national laboratory reported that the highest number of cases were in our two metros, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay. We have also had a substantial decline in the positivity rate from 2.5% to 1.4%, and this demonstrates a positive trend of low community transmission as a result of adherence to Level 1 risk-adjusted measures by our people.”

Mabuyane said, however, that he feared that increased “human movement” during the Easter weekend would mean increased movement of the virus. 

“Researchers in our very own Nelson Mandela University have warned that trouble is coming with the third wave. What is worrying us in their analysis, is that they say the third wave might be driven by the Western Cape and spread to the rest of the country. The Easter weekend, therefore, poses great risks to our province as people will be moving from the Western Cape to spend time with their families in our province,” he said.

He said in 2020, within 20 days after the Easter weekend the province, which only registered the first case of Covid-19 at the end of March, had 683 active cases and 35 deaths. 

“By the 20th of May 2020, which was a month after the Easter weekend of last year, we had 3,282 active cases and sadly lost 285 people. During that time we were on hard lockdown but the virus spread like wildfire and most of the active cases we tried to manage were to a large extent a result of the movement of people during Easter. 

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the first area to be declared a hotspot for coronavirus infections in the country in 2020, a surveillance programme based on the identification of Covid-19 messenger RNA units in wastewater has flagged an increase in possible cases.  

“Unfortunately, we cannot close provincial boundaries to prevent our people from coming home. We have participated in the National Command Council processes and made our inputs. What we don’t want to see is a free-for-all Easter weekend, which will leave families crying for lost loved ones after Easter.”

According to the latest report from the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, there are currently 220 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in the province and 5,106 in the Western Cape.

Data for the Eastern Cape, gathered and analysed by the Nelson Mandela University, showed that the province led the second wave and that the hotspot lockdown for Nelson Mandela Bay came too late to stop the spread of the virus, and that the virus was further spread through the province when people went home for the festive season.

Researchers also said the real number of infections is likely to be close to five times the reported cases.

The latest epidemiological report issued for the province has shown the Nelson Mandela Bay’s public health directorate has introduced in its health surveillance early warning system, a programme for monitoring the presence of Covid-19 in wastewater.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the first area to be declared a hotspot for coronavirus infections in the country in 2020, a surveillance programme based on the identification of Covid-19 messenger RNA units in wastewater has flagged an increase in possible cases. 

“Based on the baseline established from the beginning of March 2021, a spike in the Covid-19 messenger RNA units was identified in samples taken on 29 March 2021 in the KwaNobuhle area,” according to a statement from the municipality.

“This has indicated that there are new cases and this could mean that KwaNobuhle could become a hotspot,” the statement continued.

The metro has had close to 56,000 cumulative positive cases of coronavirus infections since 1 April last year when the first case was registered. There are currently only 28 confirmed cases in the metro. 

The latest epidemiological report for the province, produced by experts from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the Department of Health, has warned that deaths due to Covid-19 complications remain highly underestimated as portmorten results are showing that 40% of those who died outside of a health facility test positive for Covid-19.

The report confirmed that around 16,000 tests were done in the past 31 days. DM/MC

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