Doctors must choose who lives and dies as Covid-19 deaths surge in South Africa: report

A recent surge in the number of Covid-19 fatalities in South Africa is putting immense pressure on healthcare workers and related businesses, the City Press reports.

The situation has become so dire that over-stretched doctors are having to choose between who lives and dies, so that limited bed capacity can treat those with the highest likelihood of survival – while township funeral parlours are struggling to meet demand.

According to the City Press, South Africa has seen a surge in admissions to hospitals of 2,286% in the past week due to new infections, with Gauteng being hit the hardest by new cases.

The province has seen a 284% increase in confirmed cases over the last two weeks, from 28,746 cases to being the country’s new epicentre with over 87,000 infections. Over the same period, deaths have increase 346%.

Speaking to Rapport, doctors and nurses said that the rapid rise in cases, coupled with very limited intensive care capacity at hospitals, means that they have to choose who to save.

As of Saturday (11 July) over 3,100 people have been put into intensive care to treat Covid-19, the paper said – while the country’s capacity is around 1,500 for public hospitals, and 6,800 for private hospitals. Not all beds are equipped to deal with Covid-19.

Government is increasing bed capacity, especially in hard-hit provinces like Gauteng, but the rate at which they can do it will not be able to match the rate of infections and serious cases.

Patients are being turned away because doctors don’t know where they will find available beds, Rapport said, while the entire situation is exacerbated by over 1,000 healthcare workers also testing positive for the virus.

Funeral parlours

Funeral parlours, meanwhile, are being hampered by their own woes.

Speaking to the City Press, parlour managers noted that bodies are piling up because of an influx of the deceased, coupled with administrative issues.

According to regulations, those who die of Covid-19 need to be buried or cremated within 48 hours of death – however, some bodies are sitting in facilities as long as six days, due to families being unable to get death certificates in time from Home Affairs.

Some parlours are refusing to work with Covid-19 bodies, due to the risks and hurdles involved, causing further backlogs for others.

Rising cases

As of Saturday, there are now 264,184 total cases of coronavirus in South Africa. This is an increase of 13,497 cases from the 250,687 cases reported on Friday.

There have been 111 new Covid-19 related deaths, taking the total to 3,971 casualties following a high of 192 deaths on Tuesday this past week. 127,715 people have recovered to date.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said his department is working around the clock to procure more field hospital beds. He said that temporary beds will be added to some hospitals across the country to increase capacity for daily admissions, as the country is now entering into the Covid-19 peak.

Speaking in Pretoria on Friday, the Minister said in addition to the close to 2,000 procured beds for field hospitals, the department is adding a further 250 beds in all the health facilities to match up the daily admissions in Gauteng.

The department is also working to supply about 1,000 oxygen points at Nasrec field hospital.

Mkhize said other measures included government receiving 20,000 ventilators from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that will be distributed in various hospitals this month.

Also, local doctors have already started using dexamethasone to treat some patients, which the Minister says is readily available and easy to administer.

“We have indicated in the past few days that the surge is upon us at this point. This is the beginning of what we have related to be the storm that we have to brace up for. We are here to see the level of preparations that can be demonstrated in the Gauteng province,” he said.

“Gauteng for the past three days has surged to have the highest number of Covid-19 infections…and the numbers are going to be increasing. What we are seeing in Gauteng is not surprising.”

“We are now basically going to be seeing the peak of the epidemic,” he said, adding that more field hospital beds need to be prioritised.


Read: 264,184 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa as deaths climb to 3,971

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Doctors must choose who lives and dies as Covid-19 deaths surge in South Africa: report