Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that South Africa may face a larger outbreak of COVID-19 now that lockdown regulations have been relaxed – but also assured that government containment strategies have been put in place to limit this as far as possible.

The hard lockdown has bought time for government to ramp up the country’s healthcare system capacity in anticipation for a peak in COVID-19 infections projected for July.

Briefing the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday, Mkhize outlined the many interventions put in place by government thus far as well as plans to deal with COVID-19 hotspots as they emerge around the country.

“We must be aware that we are facing a much bigger COVID-19 outbreak challenge than we did when we started the lockdown… We believe have been able to flatten the curve for the first part. Flattening the cure is an everyday event. If we lose our focus, the curve could spiral up again,” Mkhize warned.

Almost 600,000 tests have been conducted for COVID-19 across the country and more than 13 million people have been screened for the virus. From the community screening programme, thousands of people have been referred for testing, allowing for early detection of the virus.

However, Mkhize said the Health Department is expecting a decrease in the availability of laboratory test kits due to a global shortage paired with an increase in demand.

“We are now running into difficulty with various suppliers not being able to meet our demands. The whole world is scrambling to get the lab kits…We need society to understand that this is now becoming a constraint, it is about whether the global suppliers are able to respond to our requests,” he said.

Teams of experts will now be deployed in hotspots, concentrating on small catchment areas to provide the spread of the virus.

“They will try and keep as many people away from hospitals by getting them treated by teams of GPs and nurses…Each hotspot must have its own team of experts. Field hospitals are important. They will ensure people with mild symptoms are in quarantine and prevent the spread of infection.”

If this, combined with other intervention measures in hotspots, does not work in containing the virus in hotspot areas, these areas may be subject to harsher lockdown levels under the spread is brought under control.