The nationwide lockdown has dramatically deflected South Africa’s COVID-19 infection curve, biding the country time to strengthen its healthcare systems.

In a high-level meeting with provincial Health MECs, senior Department of Health officials and other stakeholders in the fight against COVID-19, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize the lockdown stopped the rampant movement of people.

“The lockdown stopped the huge movement of people and therefore reduced what would have been an exponential rise (in COVID-19 cases),” Mkhize said.

It is believed that the implementation of the nationwide lockdown has delayed the eventual peak of COVID-19 cases in the country by six weeks.

“Our model does show that even if we make the lockdown longer, it would not have pushed the curve much lower than it is now. When the President said we need to ease down (the lockdown), it was based on scientific principles,” Mkhize said.

“The further two weeks (of the lockdown) added another advantage. It allowed us to ramp up the machinery of the health services to the point where we could increase the number of testing.”

It is expected that South Africa will this week tip the 5000 mark in respect of its amount of positive COVID-19 cases.

However, there is concern that pre-existing co-morbidities coupled with COVID-19 may result in a higher number of serious illness or death.

The three risk factors, according to Mkhize, is hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Lung disease, such as asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease, commonly seen in smokers, are also concerning pathologies.

More than a third of South Africans suffer from hypertension and around 4.5 million people have diabetes.

“We still have an unknown risk factor of HIV and AIDS, which other countries have not been able to study. With the largest burden of people living with HIV, we will be the definitive country to assess the extent of HIV co-morbidity in COVID-19 outcomes,” Mkhize said.

The Health minister also addressed issues of personal protective equipment.

Mkhize said South Africa’s “biggest ammunition” in fighting COVID-19 is the technical and professional training for health workers.

“It is our line function activity to fight epidemics…Within the stock that is available, we are assured there is adequate stock to share among the various institutions that we work with,” Mkhize said.