South Africa has reached the surge and hospitals will be swamped

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has warned MPs that South Africa's hospitals will soon be overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has warned MPs that South Africa's hospitals will soon be overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases.

South AFrica will need fewer hospital beds for Covid-19 patients than initially expected, but every province is expected to be overwhelmed nonetheless, with Gauteng soon be the epicentre.

This is according to health minister Zweli Mkhize, who on Wednesday revealed that South Africa’s Covid-19 peak model projected a lower need for beds — ICU and non-ICU — nationally.

Mkhize was addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday. He said since the last release of scientific model expectations in May, the National Covid Epi Model had been updated to reflect Covid-19 at a district level using hospitalisation data, updated estimates of the reproductive number and a shift in testing priorities.

“Model projections indicate that while the epidemic is predicted to peak nationally at a similar time to the previously projected optimistic curve — that is, mid-August — it does so at a lower level. This means that fewer people were infected in May and June than was previously predicted, even under the optimistic scenario,” Mkhize said.

“Currently, planned hospital beds in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are projected to be insufficient for combined non-ICU-bed demand and the overflow from ICU once ICU capacity has been breached. Bed capacity, including all currently committed public- and private-sector beds, is expected to be breached in the next four weeks,” he said.

Mkhize told MPs that “we have now reached the surge”.

“Between level 4 and level 3 ... the number of Covid-19 cases increased across the provinces. During level 4 of the lockdown the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal had hotspots. However, after moving to level 3 of the lockdown, two additional provinces, namely North West and Free State, registered hotspots,” he said.

While the Western Cape still led in the number of positive cases, Mkhize said Gauteng was expected to surpass it and become the virus’s epicentre by Wednesday night.

Gauteng recorded 4,597 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the provincial government said on Wednesday. A total of 478 people died and 3,167 people were being treated for Covid-19 in private or public hospitals.

Meanwhile, the department of health had developed and was implementing a “surge strategy” in anticipation of the peak.

Mkhize said this would ensure the department increased capacity for Covid-19, while continuing to deliver other services to health-care users.

Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku and staff of Forensic Pathology Services visited Honingnestkrans Cemetery in Tshwane on July 8 2020.

“During this process, the department repurposed 27,467 beds for Covid-19, which has increased to 40,309 beds, as the provinces started to experience a sudden increase in the number of cases.”

At the end of June, 4,821 health-care workers in the public and private sectors were reported to have been infected with Covid-19. The Western Cape accounted for the majority (68%), with 3,285 infections by June 29.

The most infections were among nurses, with 2,473, followed by other health professionals, including community health workers (1,971) and doctors (377).

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