R256 million to keep Joburg field hospital open until January – despite admitting only 5 patients in October

The Gauteng Health Department says that the Nasrec field hospital will remain open until January 2021, despite only five patients being admitted to the facility in October.

The purpose of the Nasrec field hospital was to help alleviate the burden of Covid-19 patients at clinics and hospitals across Johannesburg. The facility was set up at a cost of R350 million.

Gauteng acting MEC for health, Jacob Mamabolo said that the threat of Covid-19 infections has not been reduced enough to justify a move to close the site.

“The threat of the second wave of infections still remains according to the World Health Organisation,” Mamabolo said.

“Nasrec will only close after January 2021, which is a key milestone post the festive season. The department will be monitoring the festive season period closely as it relates to Covid-19 infections.”

The department said that five patients have been admitted so far in October, while 21 patients were treated at the facility in September.

Democratic Alliance Gauteng health MEC, Jack Bloom, said that the cost to keep the field hospital open until 31 January next year could be as much as R256 million.

Citing Mamabolo, Bloom said that R58.1 million was paid by the end of August for the 500 bed quarantine and isolation facility, and R69.3 million for the 1,000 bed step-down hospital facility.

“This is really exorbitant as only 604 people were quarantined or isolated, and only 96 patients were treated there for this period. It amounts to R96,000 paid for each quarantined/isolated person, and R720,000 for each patient treated at the field hospital,” he said.

The department is paying for the 1000-bed facility to ensure that there is capacity for a possible second wave of infections or a spike over the December holiday period. The projected total cost was originally R350 million but the projection is now between R157 million and R256 million for all costs, inclusive of assets to be recovered, the DA lead said.

“This is hugely wasteful expenditure. There were clear signs after the initial alarmist projections that the Covid-19 epidemic would peak in July rather than in August/September as was originally expected.

“There was no scenario that infections would be surging in January next year, yet a six month contract for 1,000 beds was signed on 1 August with the Joburg Expo Centre which runs Nasrec.”

A field hospital is meant to be set up and taken down in a few weeks to cope with the peak of an epidemic, rather than kept open for an extended period at great expense, Bloom said.

Second wave

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said earlier this week that South Africa has reported fewer than expected coronavirus cases in its move to a level 1 lockdown, but cautions that the country could still face a second surge in cases.

Mkhize, who contracted the virus, and is in self isolation, said that ‘chances are’ South Africa will likely follow other countries in experiencing a second wave. He said that other countries, who had contained their respective rates of infection, faced a second surge after opening up for travel.

He cited the US, which after a plateau in cases, saw a second wave which surpassed the first reported wave.

This led to a realisation for South Africa – in that there is no reason that we will be spared from a second wave, Mkhize said.

“The conduct of the pandemic is not the same in all countries. One of the issues that we have been struggling with is ‘what made (South Africa) get the wave it actually did?’,” he said.

He said that earlier government predictions and models showed a much higher rate of expected cases and deaths for the country than what was experienced.

“We can’t quite explain why we didn’t get to those numbers. But what we have been able to see is that some of the very limited studies have indicated that what we have as positive cases reported is less than the numbers we have on the ground.”

Infections in South Africa

On Tuesday evening, Dr Mkhize reported 1,058 new cases of Covid-19.

The cumulative number of detected Covid-19 cases is now 706,304, and in the last 24 hours, 15,366 Covid-19 tests were conducted.

Meanwhile, 164 additional Covid-19 related deaths were reported, bringing the tally to 18,656.

Of the latest fatalities, 52 were from Gauteng, 46 from the Eastern Cape and 41 from Free State.

Nine deaths are from KwaZulu-Natal, eight from the Western Cape, five from Limpopo, two from the Northern Cape and one from Mpumalanga.

According to the WHO, the African region has reported an increase in both cases and deaths in the last seven days, with an 11% increase in new cases and an 8% increase in new deaths.

This pattern is a drive by South Africa and Ethiopia, with Kenya and Botswana also reporting a notable spike in infections.

South Africa has accounted for approximately 70% of deaths on the continent in the past week, it said.

“The high number of deaths being reported is partially attributed to a mortality audit and many of these deaths are retrospectively reported,” the organisation said.

India, the United States of America, France, Brazil and the United Kingdom continue to report the highest number of cases, the WHO said.

Read: Chance of a second coronavirus wave in South Africa: Mkhize

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R256 million to keep Joburg field hospital open until January – despite admitting only 5 patients in October