Medical expert warns over surging hospital numbers ahead of Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 address

South Africa’s rate of increase in Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and oxygen use is all steeper than what was seen in South Africa’s first wave of Covid-19 cases, says UCT Public Health Medicine specialist Kerrin Begg.

Begg told eNCA that the Western Cape has now exceeded the peak seen during the first wave through an incredibly rapid increase.

“We really have to intervene. We have to put what we call a ‘circuit breaker’ in to allow our health services to manage because at the moment the health services are strained.

Begg said that under the first wave there was the restriction of movement, curfews and limitations on the sale of alcohol which meant that healthcare workers could cope better.

“The president has to do something, otherwise we are not going to cope. We certainly know that in Cape Town and the Garden Route that the hospitals are full.”

Similar to Europe

Discovery has also raised alarm bells around the country’s second coronavirus wave and its similarity to what is happening in other countries.

With many South Africans preparing for a December break, daily new reported Covid-19 cases are at their highest levels since July and rapidly increasing, the insurer said.

It added that South Africa’s infection rates are following a strikingly similar trajectory to Europe’s second wave, peaking six to seven months after the initial outbreak.

“South Africa is now clearly in a second wave. The Eastern Cape and Western Cape, in particular, are currently experiencing a surge in new infections with a well-established second wave, and we fully expect the imminent emergence of a second wave in KwaZulu-Natal,” said Dr Ryan Noach, chief executive of Discovery Health.

“Across these provinces, Discovery’s data classifies a number of hotspot areas where additional precautions should be taken due to significantly elevated rates of active Covid-19 infections.”

Noach said that these areas include:

  • Port Elizabeth, East London, Uitenhage, Zwelitsha and Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape;
  • George, Mossel Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Stellenbosch and Somerset West in the Western Cape.

He said that a further 19 districts across these regions that have been identified as emerging hotspots are expected to experience a similar surge in infections within the new few weeks.

With many South Africans expected to travel to these regions over the holiday period, we can expect larger crowds and greater levels of social interaction, Noach said.

“These dynamics substantially heighten the risk of Covid-19 infection within these regions. Additionally, hospital capacity in these hotspot regions is limited and we anticipate it will come under severe strain with the influx of travellers from other provinces and should there be an expanded outbreak in these areas.

“Strict collective adherence to Covid-19 protocols is therefore critical in mitigating the extent of the second wave and significant potential squeeze on hospital bed capacity, particularly ICU beds and ventilators.”

Beaches 

Many of South Africa’s hotspot areas are also popular holiday destinations, and provincial health officials have raised concerns about the impact of mass gatherings on beaches.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said that he is in talks with the national government about closing beaches in the province over the festive season.

“The leadership of the Eastern Cape provincial government and the leadership of coastal municipalities has taken a decision to close beaches and recreational parks. The main purpose is to stop the spread of Covid-19 infections.”

“We have realised that having an open activity in facilities and places poses a huge risk in terms of the beaches and recreational parks that are not controlled. These venues can act as super-spreaders, and we have communicated our decision to the national government.”

On Friday, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said that no formal decision had been taken to close beaches in the province – however, he confirmed that all large events would be prohibited.

“Beaches will not be closed for now – that is the decision we (as a province) have taken. If it comes to push, we might be forced to close (the beaches) for swimming, but allow people to be in and around the beach for leisure.”

Zikalala explained that this eventuality could arise as people are forced to remove their masks for swimming, but not for other activities.

Zikalala said that any decision on restrictions will be made by president Cyril Ramaphosa, based on presentations made by his provincial government.

“That is why we are saying that there is no such decision (from national government to close beaches), as the president has made no decision.”

Ramaphosa announcement 

Holidaymakers, businesses and other South Africans are now all waiting for clarity on what the second coronavirus wave will mean for the country’s lockdown and restrictions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation at 20h00 on Monday evening, with reports from the executive indicating that localised restrictions are likely to be introduced.

The address follows meetings with the National Coronavirus Command Council and provincial governments as the country battles with the impact of a second coronavirus wave. 

A member of Ramaphosa’s executive told the City Press that it is unlikely that the entire country will return to a hard lockdown as experienced earlier this year.

Instead, higher restrictions are set to be introduced at a localised level in the country’s coronavirus hotspot areas. The additional restrictions which are being considered include:

  • Stricter curfew times;
  • Earlier closing times for restaurants;
  • Further limitations on gatherings such as funerals
  • New rules around beaches.

South Africa reported 7,999 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday (14 December), taking the total reported to 860,964.

Deaths have reached 23,276 (a daily increase of 170), while recoveries have climbed to 761,011, leaving the country with a balance of 76,677 active cases.


Read: Ramaphosa to address the nation on Monday over Covid-19 developments

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Medical expert warns over surging hospital numbers ahead of Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 address