‘We’ve reached the surge,’ Mkhize tells MPs

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

This is according to health minister Zweli Mkhize, who on Wednesday revealed that South Africa’s Covid-19 peak model projects a lower need for beds — both ICU and non-ICU — at a national level. However, he warned that bed capacity was still expected to be overwhelmed in all provinces.

Mkhize was addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday. He said that since the last release of scientific model expectations in May, the National Covid Epi Model has 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 explained.

The Eastern Cape and Gauteng are already being hard-hit.

“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 leads all provinces in the number of positive cases, Mkhize said Gauteng was expected to surpass it and become the virus’ epicentre by Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the department of health has developed and is implementing a “Surge Strategy” in anticipation of the peak.

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

“During this process, the department repurposed a total of 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.”

As at the end of June, 4,821 health care workers in the public and private sector were reported to have been infected with Covid-19 across SA. The Western Cape accounts for the majority (68%) of those infected with 3,285 infections as at June 29.

The leading number of infections was among nurses, with 2,473 infections — followed by other health professionals including community health workers, reporting 1,971 infections, and doctors, recording 377.

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