These are the areas in South Africa that will likely see the first peak in coronavirus cases: Mkhize

The evolution of the coronavirus outbreak in the country has highlighted the different success rates between the provinces, says health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

Speaking at the opening of a new field hospital in the Eastern Cape on Tuesday (23 June), Mkhize said that government has studied the unique dynamics in each province and continues to offer the necessary support to achieve the desired outcomes.

“Some provinces, like North West and Northern Cape are at this stage low transmission areas which have hitherto managed to contain the situation,” he said.

“However, as economic activity that typify those areas resumes, such as mining in the North West, the provinces must expect that cluster outbreaks will drive their numbers in an upward trajectory.”

Other provinces, such as KwaZulu-Natal, have slowed down after an initial explosion, said Mkhize.

“These provinces initiated robust containment and contact tracing strategies and we would encourage that they maintain the gains they have made and constantly look to strengthen and up-capacitate where they have succeeded so that they do not find themselves with a resurgence,” he said.

“The Free State is one of the success stories of the early days of the pandemic. A cluster outbreak from a church gathering threatened to become a runaway bush fire but we quickly doused the flame by deploying mobile testing units and instituted an aggressive contact tracing strategy with immediate quarantine or isolation of persons under investigation.

“As a result, we all but halted the spread – for many weeks the number of infections in the Free State remained around one hundred. This province must guard against complacency as we are seeing the numbers steadily climbing again.”

Reaching peak 

Mkhize said provinces, such as the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, now have well-established cluster outbreaks that are driving a surge, and will likely peak first before other provinces.

“In these instances, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation were the biggest weaknesses and the Western Cape in particular is having serious challenges in the reluctance of community members to go into quarantine and isolation,” he said.

“In addition, the close economic and social interconnectedness of the Eastern and Western Capes adds complexity to an already volatile epidemiological picture.”

With such variables still playing a role in the dynamics of the pandemic in this region, caution needs to be exercised, he said.

“It needs to be well understood that any interpretation from revised models at this stage must take into account that there are factors that are yet to play themselves out and influence the picture we will see as things develop.

“Urgent social behavioural change will be a key intervention in these provinces – it is for this reason that the Multi-sectoral Ministerial Advisory Committee on Behavioural Change was established.

“The members are already immersed in the business of finding solutions that will facilitate a social compact to empower and enable citizens to effect change in partnership with government.”

Grim milestone

On Tuesday, Mkhize announced that there are now 106,108 total cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 4,518 cases from 101,590 cases reported on Monday, while a record 24-hour increase of 4,966 infections was reported on Saturday.

The minister announced 111 new Covid-19 related deaths, passing the grim milestone of 2,000 deaths, and bringing the total up to 2,102.

Of the reported cases in the country, the mortality rate currently sits at 2%, while recoveries increased to 55,045, which translates to a recovery rate of 51.9%.

Province Case Numbers Percentage total
Western Cape 53 512 50.4%
Gauteng 24 041 22.7%
Eastern Cape 18 108 17.1%
KwaZulu-Natal 5 625 5.3%
North West 2 454 2.3%
Free State 814 0.8%
Mpumalanga 662 0.6%
Limpopo 622 0.6%
Northern Cape 270 0.3%
Total 106 108 100%

On Monday, Mkhize said that he expects the Western Cape’s coronavirus cases to peak sometime between the last week of June and the end of July.

This is in line with recent comments made by Western Cape premier Alan Winde, who said that the province was preparing for an influx in cases.

“Some epidemiological models, including the National Covid-19 Epi Model (NCEM) which is relied on by the national government for forecasting, have estimated that the province will experience its peak soon.

“While we cannot pinpoint the exact date at which we will reach this peak, we are experiencing increased pressure in our hospitals,” Winde said.

“At the same time, the economy is opening up further, with personal care services re-opening this weekend and other sectors expected to open soon. Now is therefore the time to be extra vigilant to slow the spread,” he said.

Data published by the South Africa Covid-19 Modelling Consortium (SACMC) in May shows that Covid-19 cases are expected to peak somewhere between July and August.

This group of experts has estimated that over 48,000 people could die from Covid-19 by November with the country expected to reach as many as 1 million cases in the same time frame.

Active cases in Gauteng have also surged in June. The Gauteng MEC for Health Dr Bandile Masuku, told POWER Breakfast on Tuesday that the ‘peak is on its way’.

Various experts predict a peak in the province in August and September. Masuku said that the peak would depend on whether the public adheres to the regulations. He told POWER Breakfast that it is disappointing that people have turned against common practices to help prevent the spread of the virus, including social distancing.

He said that testing is being done in hotspot areas, notably in densely populated zones.

Gauteng premier David Makhura has also previously warned of the dangers of peak flu season in the country, which could add to the province’s woes to fight the coronavirus. “Flu season is of a great concern, the peak season is ahead us,” he said.

Read: South Africa won’t rush to lift lockdown as it’s trying to avoid a ‘Black October’: Dlamini-Zuma

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These are the areas in South Africa that will likely see the first peak in coronavirus cases: Mkhize