Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma on hospital readiness, lifting lockdown, and other questions from parliament

As South Africa nears 90 days since the countrywide lockdown began, some of the country’s key figures have had to answer on some of the health, regulatory and governmental decisions they have made.

While there are a number of avenues in which government ministers can respond to questions, one of key ways they are held to account is through written replies to questions posed by opposition MPs.

Below are some of the recent answers provided by Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

Below are some of the questions which Dr Zweli Mkhize was asked and how he responded.

  • What is the new strategy for curbing new community infections for coronavirus?

“The strategy for curbing infections in communities is in keeping with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations, which is to undertake contact tracing, community screening and testing – which has now evolved into targeted community screening, especially in the hotspots (where there is greater than 5 cases per 100,000 population),”  said Mkhize.

“The National Department of Health is also working closely with its provincial counterparts to also ensure hospital readiness for Covid-19.

“Moreover, community messaging on social distancing and hygiene practices are being stepped up in provinces, especially where the hotspots have been identified. A revised testing strategy will prioritise those persons who are at very high risk and are symptomatic.”

He added that lockdown has been effective in managing new infections.

“The mathematical models have shown us that we would have had a five times higher mortality if the lockdown was not implemented. Additionally, the lockdown provides the health system an opportunity to plan for the surge of infections.”

“The lockdown has achieved both these objectives reducing new infections and providing the healthcare system with more time to prepare for the surge.

“The new strategy is a risk-adjusted model of alert levels based on the level of infection and the health system capacity in an area.

“The health system must focus its energy and resources on these areas where there are high levels of infection. These areas are different from other areas where there is little or no infection. The areas with low risk do not require the stringent restriction that areas of high risk require.

“There is little value in a generalised lockdown when the reality is that there are specific areas of the country that are of high risk (hotspots). These areas require intervention to curb the spread of infection. The risk-adjusted approach is intended to focus our attention on areas that are at high risk. This is a much more efficient approach to responding to Covid-19.”

  • What is the total number of ventilators have been procured in the fight against Covid-19? 

“As at 15 June 2020, a total of 1,138 ventilators have been procured through Provincial Health Departments as well as National Department and they are all imported with a lead-time of minimum of 3 months and maximum of 9 months,” said Mkhize

“Eastern Cape and Limpopo received 15 of the 60 and 3 of the 133 procured ventilators, respectively. The remaining 1,120 ventilators are still to be delivered.”

  • What is the true status of hospitals in handling the pandemic?

Mkhize said that Modelling consortium Incident Management Team has developed detailed projections and recommendations of the hospital requirements in all provinces including isolation beds, general beds and critical care beds.

He added that a National Hospital Readiness Task Team has been established comprising of clinicians, disaster management experts and experienced hospital managers.

“The role of this team is to provide guidance and support to the provinces on all aspects of hospital readiness,” he said.

“The Department has developed a surge strategy, which guides the provinces in various areas of health system support. The strategy also includes guidance on the management of the various categories of the Covid-19 patients.

“Alongside this strategy, a detailed guidance has already been provided to all hospitals on all aspects of hospital readiness including in the form of Action Plans.

“Ten of these plans have already been provided to the hospitals covering: Preparation, Area allocation, Command and Control, Bed Statistics, Safety, Communication, Assessment, Decontamination, Surge capacity and Triage.”

Mkhize added that all hospitals have been provided with an online assessment of readiness including: equipment requirements, oxygen requirements, operational management, case management, infection prevention and control, human resources, infrastructure, medicines, linen, supply chain and support services.

He said that bed allocation for the Covid-19 response is as follows:

  • General beds – 12,029;
  • High Critical Beds – 2,309;
  • High care beds – 13,129.

Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma came under fire this week over claims that she was ‘dodging questions’ in parliament.

Below are some of the questions which she was asked and how she responded.

  • Whether she has been informed about the allegations that expert scientific advice is ignored when determining regulations for each alert level? 

“The information related to Covid-19 recoveries and death rate statistics requested by the Honourable Member is accessible in the department of health, therefore the information will be submitted to the Honourable Member as soon as the information is available to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.”

  • Whether there is any regulation that has been imposed by the National Coronavirus Command Council since 26 March 2020 as a measure to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that suspended or limited fundamental human rights? 

“The information requested by the honourable member on Covid-19 with relevant details will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as the information is available.”

  • What is the total number of submissions government received in support of lifting the prohibition on tobacco products sales during the national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19?

“The information will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as it is available.”

Lifting the lockdown

While Dlamini-Zuma may not have provided concrete answers in her written parliamentary Q&A, she has touched on a number of other important question in other forums.

Speaking in a virtual parliamentary briefing on Tuesday (23 June), Dlamini-Zuma explained that government has ‘not rushed’ to lift the country’s coronavirus lockdown over fears of a surge in cases.

“What the government has now done is to make sure that as we ease the lockdown, we must not ease it in a rushed manner because we will get a surge that we may not be able to deal with.

“So we have had to open up slowly. Why?  Because on the one hand, we have to save lives. We would like to have as few people as possible that we can…die from this. We don’t want to have massive deaths.

“This country during the Spanish flu lost more than 300,000 people, almost in six weeks around ‘Black October’ and we don’t want that situation. So we have to balance saving lives but at the same time, we have to balance livelihoods.

“That’s why we are gradually opening up the economy and matching that with the readiness of the health services.”

Dlamini-Zuma added that level 3 of the lockdown has ‘pretty much opened up most of the economy’ and that the country will now move to an ‘advanced level 3’ where even more businesses will be allowed to reopen.

Read: 3 new lockdown changes announced for South Africa

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Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma on hospital readiness, lifting lockdown, and other questions from parliament