South Africa

COVID-19 UPDATE 

Western Cape health system in ‘eye of the storm’ as infections rise and restrictions relax

A nurse displays a syringe containing a Covid-19 vaccine. There are currently 36,835 active cases in the Western Cape, which is also seeing an average of 2,439 new cases each day. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

As the Western Cape battles the third wave of Covid-19 infections, the province’s officials warn the public not to let their guard down following South Africa’s move to Lockdown Level 3 on Sunday.

“We have to make sure that we take this more seriously than ever before,” said Premier Alan Winde during a virtual media briefing on Thursday, which was held with Western Cape Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo and Health Department head Dr Keith Cloete to provide a provincial health update on the Covid-19 third wave. 

Winde said the province “welcomed” the adjusted alert Level 3 regulations announced on Sunday, but reminded the public that a change in lockdown restrictions comes with “heightened responsibility”. He urged people to continue to adhere to Covid-19 protocols in order to prevent infection and reduce transmissions in the province. 

Winde’s remarks were echoed by MEC Mbombo who said Covid-19 cases were still increasing, and the province was not yet out of the woods. 

Cloete said the Western Cape is experiencing a flattening of the third wave, but that Covid-19 infections are yet to peak in the province. He anticipated that a peak would likely occur in the following seven to 10 days: 

“We have not peaked. We are nearing the peak, but we have not peaked.”

There are currently 36,835 active cases in the province. This includes 2,345 more active cases in the last week. The Western Cape is also currently seeing an average of 2,439 new cases each day. 

The recent taxi violence which resulted in a decrease in mobility, may have reduced testing rates but could have also impacted case transmission, said Cloete. 

Covid-19 infections have largely “plateaued” in all areas across the metro, “but the taxi violence affected the metro disproportionately compared to rural [areas], and therefore the impact of that testing delay in the metro, is felt more than in the rural areas,” he said.  

‘Under threat’

Our health service capacity is currently “under threat”, said Cloete, adding that while the rate of hospitalisation has slowed slightly, public sector admissions continue to increase. 

The Western Cape currently has 3,433 Covid-19 patients in both its acute public and private hospitals. There are currently 1,805 Covid-19 patients in public hospitals and 1,638 in private hospitals in the province. 

110% of critical and intensive care beds designated for Covid-19 patients are occupied. 

“There is no capacity for anybody that’s critically ill,” said Cloete. 

According to Cloete, pressure is mounting on Western Cape health services, with hospitals in the Garden Route “under severe pressure at the moment”. In George, 41% of all public hospital patients are Covid-19 patients. 

He warned that hospitals in the Western Cape could reach breaking point this weekend as Covid-19 infections increase, and the partial availability of alcohol under Level 3 could cause a spike in trauma cases over the end-of-month weekend. 

“If anybody is injured this weekend because of trauma, there is no capacity to manage anybody with a serious injury this weekend in the critical care capacity because it’s all been taken up by Covid-19 patients,” he said. 

Last week, taxi violence led to a slight increase in trauma cases in the Western Cape. Overall during Lockdown Level 4, the province saw a 30.4% decrease in trauma cases and a 37.9% reduction in weekend trauma cases.  

The introduction of adjusted level 3 regulations, which allow for the partial availability of alcohol, coincide with an end-of-month weekend, “which under normal conditions tends to be the peak for trauma admissions,” said Cloete. 

Since the province is also nearing the peak of its third wave, the implications of this may place “severe strain” on an already threatened public healthcare system, he said. The focus will now be on protecting the health system and healthcare workers who “are in the eye of the storm,” said Cloete. 

Echoing Cloete’s warning, Winde also pleaded with the public to refrain from ending up in a trauma unit this weekend. Winde added that he had been in conversation with the Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz to ensure law enforcement will be monitoring the situation closely over the weekend. 

Constrained vaccine supply

Vaccine registration opened for people aged 35 to 49 on 15 July, for whom jabs will be available from 1 August, said Cloete. 

Registration for the age group 18 to 34 will open on 1 September. 

On Friday, 30 July the Western Cape will receive 90,090 doses of Pfizer. The province is also expected to receive additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine early next week. 

This week, the Western Cape surpassed 1-million Covid-19 vaccinations. As of Wednesday 28 July, the cumulative total number of vaccinations administered in the province was 1,072,838. 

There are 359,282 people who are fully vaccinated in the province, added Dr Cloete. There are 203 active public vaccination sites in the province, and 118 private sites. Workplace vaccination sites are also being added sequentially.   

Addressing the media, Cloete said that the province does not have sufficient vaccine supply to meet the current demand. 

“We can activate 293 sites, and run at full capacity. At the moment, because of vaccine supply constraints, we’re running 203 sites and at the sites, we have to ration and make sure that we have enough [vaccines] so that we don’t run out completely,” said Cloete. 

There are 10 public vaccination sites that will be open on Saturday, 31 July in areas including Michell’s Plain, Somerset West, Gugulethu and Citrusdal. 

“We will be constrained by how many vaccines we have available this Saturday, but as the vaccine supply increases our weekend availability of vaccinations will also increase,” said Cloete. DM

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