South Africa: KZN Expected to Be the Next Epicentre, Mkhize Cautions

Thousands of South African hospitality and wine industry workers took to the streets to protest against the banning of alcohol sales and restrictions on restaurant hours during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the number of new COVID-19 cases is stabilising in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal is expected to join Gauteng as the country's epicentre, Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has warned.

"In the country, Gauteng is still at the top of the rate of infections. KwaZulu-Natal is taking over now," Mkhize said.

As of Sunday, South Africa has 364 328 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while the death toll is sitting at 5 033.

Gauteng remains the hardest-hit province with 133 617 confirmed cases, while KwaZulu-Natal has 43 215 infections.

Mkhize said his department is in discussions with the coastal province on how to move ahead, as infections are expected to peak in the next few weeks. He said the goal now is to avert a shortage of beds and oxygen.

Mkhize was speaking during his visit to the Nasrec Field Hospital in Johannesburg to assess Gauteng's readiness for the COVID-19 surge.

He has applauded the clinicians for a job well done in the battle to save lives and he once again affirmed his support.

"There's no formula or textbook for this. Whenever as you clinicians feel the pressure, you need to make sure that everybody feels it, so that we must respond.

"My phone is on. Do not feel shy to call. This is an emergency, a crisis, so there is no protocol here. There is work."

He has also addressed reports that Gauteng hospital beds are full, which he believes is created by the delays in getting test results, causing patients to be kept under investigation for longer in hospital.

"Secondly, [we believe if] the availability of oxygen [is not an issue] -- if we can make sure we do not have that pressure -- then I think we could be fine."

Mkhize said the department is working around the clock to create more bed capacity so no one is turned away at hospital gates.

"There are those who may not be admitted because of the doctor's decision, that's it (sic). It will not be because of space, but because of the clinical judgement that you are going to be treated somewhere else and not in the hospital," explained the Minister.

He said the drop in trauma patient numbers gave them a huge advantage and will assist clinicians with dealing with COVID-19 patients in the next few weeks.

"Until the surge hits you, you don't know how to behave. You will only know when you are in the heat of it," said Mkhize.

He has also assured the province that it will never run out of beds.

"We have a standing agreement that we'll shift any patient to the private sector, especially for high care and intensive care," he said, adding that public sector doctors will be doing the referrals.

The department is also working on getting more volunteers, which Mkhize said should be paid timeously. He has called for a 24-hour turnaround time in employing staff.

The Minister expressed faith in medical personnel, saying "our clinicians are on top of the game and have good enough experience".

Eastern Cape visit

Mkhize said he would visit the Eastern Cape this week.

While cases continue to climb, the Minister has stressed the importance of wearing masks, using sanitisers, washing of hands, as well as social distancing.

According to the Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, the Nasrec Field Hospital has had at least 21 admissions since last week.

"We're starting small and once it gets well organised, we are going to upscale it. By the time we get to the peak, which will be in a month's time, this place will be up and running like a well-oiled machine," he said.

He also expressed gratitude for the work done by healthcare professionals and those who have sponsored oxygen concentrators, while his department also procures devices.

"This is one of the things we want to do to make sure that Nasrec is fully functional and is able to alleviate the pressure from the facilities south of Gauteng, and it might extend even to the side of the West Rand and Sedibeng, depending on our capacity," Masuku said.

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