Gauteng premier, David Makhura, said on Tuesday the province is experiencing rising daily infections of the COVID-19 pandemic making it the second highest province after KwaZulu-Natal. Daily infections in the Western Cape seem to be stabilising.
The premier said Gauteng currently has recorded over 50 000 active cases of the pandemic saying the number is likely to surge as more people are returning back to the province from their festive holidays. He said Tshwane metro is emerging as the hotspot of infections in the province.
Makhura was briefing the media about the provincial command council status report on the coronavirus pandemic. The report also outlined measures that the province is putting in place to mitigate the rising daily infections and the resultant mortalities. Makhura said just in the past seven days, the infections have increased dramatically and indications are that this will not decrease any time soon.
He said their modelling shows that had the country remain on alert level 1, the numbers would be rising at an alarming rate, adding that level 3 lockdown will help curb the infections.
He said in total the province needs 525 beds to enable health facilities to cope with the second wave of infections. Said Makhura: “We are expecting case numbers to shoot to the roof, given the nature of the new variant and intensity of the second wave. This is going to be impacted positively by the level of compliance in lockdown level 3.”
But Makhura said although hospitals in the province are taking strain, they were not yet packed to capacity. “We are not yet at the level where our hospitals are full, but numbers are increasing quite rapidly,” said the premier, adding that they will increase bed capacity in all public hospitals in the province. The recent social media pictures showing scenes of overcrowding at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria highlighted the dire straits of most hospitals in Gauteng.
Makhura said the number of hospital admissions in the public health facilities was stable until December when they suddenly started to peak again. “At the beginning of January, we were as low as 700 hospital admissions, in the public sector. Those numbers doubled … and over the past seven days, they tripled to more than 2, 700,” he said.
He said both the public and private hospitals admissions figures come to around 4, 500, indicating that both are under pressure. Makhura said 4,129 people are hospitalised in public and private facilities. Of those, 220 are ventilated and 384 are on oxygen.
He said as a direct response to the second wave of confirmed infection cases and the rising hospital admissions, the province has decided to fully utilise the Nasrec field hospitals. The facility was one of the field hospitals opened across the province during the first wave of the pandemic. But until now it was “fairly empty with just over 300 patients admitted”. The field hospital is equipped to accommodate patient for critical care, quarantine and for persons under investigation who are suspected to have contracted COVID-19.
But critics said the premier failed to clearly outline his plan on how the province is going to address the critical issue of staff shortage at the public hospitals. They said there are no sufficient numbers of properly trained health practitioners to run these facilities as well as provide care to the patients.
Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhanga, conceded today during 702 radio follow-up interview that they currently do not have adequate personnel to deploy to these sites but that the issue is receiving attention. One way of addressing this was to recall retired doctors and nurses and also enlist newly-graduated nurses and doctors who have completed their community services.
During the briefing, the premier also noted that the demographics and profile of people being admitted in hospitals across the provinces show it is mostly youth. He said this is a direct outcome of the contravention of stipulated lockdown regulations because the youth continued to hold parties and gatherings in December.
He referred to two particular incidences; the first one was when just before December break, a crowd of youngsters was seen publicly drinking alcohol and dancing to music along R80 Mabopane highway. The second incident relates to youth who went to take part in the Rage Festival held in KwaZulu-Natal.
“What we are experiencing now is a combination of interactions people had in December, especially mid-December in the run-up to Christmas. Gatherings were taking place. Young people were the drivers of this. The message to young people is that this new variant is very deadly,” said Makhura.