Why we are cautiously optimistic about South Africa’s coronavirus peak: Mkhize

 ·5 Aug 2020

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that he is cautiously optimistic about coronavirus cases in South Africa having passed its peak, following a decline in reported numbers in recent days.

Mkhize presented data in a virtual briefing on Wednesday (5 August) showing that the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng have all seen a decline in reported cases over the last three weeks.

However, he stressed that health officials will need two to three additional weeks of data to show that this is a clear downward trend.

“While we are cautiously optimistic, it is still too early for us to make a definite conclusion regarding the observed decline. We need to continue to track all the indicators and ensure sure that our testing capacity reflects a realistic picture of our epidemiological status.

“We will therefore only know for sure when there is a consistent decline over a period.”

He added that the Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape seem to have had their surges, and are starting to taper off.

“However, it does not mean that the country is out of the woods.”

Provincial data 

Mkhize presented data which shows that the Western Cape reported an increase much earlier than the other provinces – from around 19 April. This continued until the 7 June at which point the number of cases began to decline.

He said that the government has continued to track this trend in the province over the last two months, with the province continuing to show fewer positive tests each day.

The minister added that the expected surge in cases and deaths in the province did not materialise, and that it did not need as many beds as expected.

Dr Mkhize said that the Eastern Cape showed a similar pattern to the Western Cape from 31 May, and saw its cases peak around 12 July.

Gauteng is the standout province in that it reported significantly more cases and reached a much higher daily peak at just under 6,000 new cases each day.

Mkhize indicated that the province reached its peak around the 15th of July, and has since seen a steady decrease in reported cases.

The health minister warned that South Africans should continue to follow social distancing and health guidelines as it is possible that these trends could be reversed when the country begins to ease its restrictions again.

“This whole surge can come back again at a much higher level than we are seeing. Therefore the message from us is that the containment measures are beginning to bear fruit and we likely passed the peak at the end of August.

“But if we don’t focus on distancing and the use of masks, we actually can have a second surge.”

Change in deaths reporting 

To address possible concerns around the reporting of deaths in the country, Mkhize said that the national health council has also agreed to a change testing of people who have passed on.

Mkhize said it will become mandatory for all sudden deaths and deaths that occur at home to have specimens taken for Covid-19 before a death certificate is issued.

It follows recent report showing that the country had an excess of 17,000 deaths.

He pledged to investigate ongoing corruption claims against his department as well as failures to provide protective equipment to healthcare workers.

“We have no doubt experienced challenges and glitches. This is in no way unique to our country.

“I, therefore, want to submit, with all humility, that up to now our government has displayed its readiness and has thus far coped with the surge.”

There are now a total of 521,318 cases of coronavirus in South Africa – an increase of 4,456 cases from the 516,862 infections reported previously.

The data shows that there are 345 new Covid-19 related deaths, taking the total to 8,884 casualties, following 173 deaths reported on Monday.

A total of 3.07 million tests have been conducted, with 19,507 tests conducted over the previous 24 hours.

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