Increase of Covid-19 cases expected after lockdown eased in South Africa

Medical staff in South Africa are expecting an increase in cases of Covid-19 as the national lockdown will slowly start to be phased out over the next couple of months.

Hospitals are trying their very best to put measures in place to deal with the expected increase in patient numbers.

This is according to Dr Dewald Steyn, senior lecturer and infectious disease specialist in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of the Free State (UFS), who is currently working with Covid-19 patients at the Pelonomi Hospital.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed on Sunday evening that there are now 4,546 positive Covid-19 cases in South Africa.

This is up from the 4,361 Covid-19 cases announced on Saturday by the minister, meaning a rise of 185 cases over the past 24-hours, with the country having seen nearly 750 infections in the prior 72-hour period.

The number of deaths from the coronavirus now stands at 87.

Dr Mkhize said that 168,643 tests have been conducted to date, up from 161,004 previously.

Slowly easing lockdown restrictions

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a five-level ‘risk-adjusted strategy’ that will slowly ease the country’s lockdown restrictions from 1 May.

Dr Steyn said it would not have been wise to end the lockdown too quickly, or all at once.

This could easily lead to a resurgence of Covid-19 positive cases, with the potential to overburden hospitals and available resources.

At worst, it has the potential of hospitals being forced to close, as has already been seen at two private hospitals in KZN, said Dr Steyn.

Preliminary figures indicate that the early implementation of the lockdown in South Africa had a positive impact on the spread of the virus.

The negative local and global economic impact that resulted from this pandemic will still have far-reaching consequences in the future.

After lockdown

According to Dr Steyn, the virus will still be around for a long time, and it is therefore important to continue with measures that have been proven to work globally.

Basic measures to prevent infection include frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, obeying social distancing, proper cough etiquette, disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces, etc.

Areas that need frequent sanitizing include all work surfaces, computer keyboards, cellphones, doorknobs, toilets, and all other surfaces that are frequently touched by people.

Preparing for winter

Dr Steyn said healthcare workers are preparing for very busy and difficult winter months.

“At this early stage, the morale of the health staff is still good, but the fear of what may come is a reality. Doctors will do their utmost to curb the epidemic but need the support of their employers, patients, communities, colleagues, nursing staff, cleaning staff, and their own families.”

“South Africa is unique in many ways and we are specifically concerned about vulnerable communities. Lessons learned from other countries and also from past pandemics will be our teacher.

“We should not allow ourselves to be blinded by simply focusing on this virus and its numbers,” said Dr Steyn.

Patients suffer on a daily basis from many other diseases that deserve appropriate attention within the limitations that we face, according to Dr Steyn.

What to do before returning to work?

The government has noted that where possible, those people who are able to work from home, should continue to do so post 1 May, when lockdown begins to ease.

Sustained self-monitoring for flu-like symptoms by the public and specifically by healthcare workers must be continued throughout the winter.

“Any potential Covid-19 related symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhoea etc, should be acted upon as soon as possible.

“Screening and testing and the reintroduction of self-quarantine or isolation practices must be followed as needed,” said Dr Steyn.

According to Dr Steyn, persons in homes for the elderly or in frail care facilities should remain in self-isolation for as long as it is directed by government and experts.

These measures – as far as practical – are even more important for persons over the age of 60, and people with underlying medical conditions.

Regulations from the government stipulate that the elderly only leave the home for emergencies, while those above that age category who still work, should do so from home.

High-risk persons should avoid contact with other people and keep working from their homes or isolated offices, Dr Steyn said.

“Any employee presenting with respiratory symptoms or diarrhoea should first be screened and tested for Covid-19 before returning to the workplace.

Read South Africa’s full level 4 lockdown restrictions here

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Increase of Covid-19 cases expected after lockdown eased in South Africa