Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced that temporary beds will be added to some hospitals across the country to increase capacity for daily admissions.

This comes as South Africa enters its peak in COVID-19 infection, resulting in medical facilities becoming burdened with both COVID-19 and non COVID-19 patients.

The strategy of increasing the number of temporary beds across the public sector is coupled with other measures including the implementation of triage measures and increasing the number of COVID-19 field hospital beds in Gauteng.

This aims to reduce the strain on hospitals, allowing bed space for those with ailments other than COVID-19 to be treated.

Mkhize was speaking after a site visit to the Tshwane District Hospital and Steve Biko Academic Hospital on Friday.

“We have indicated in the past few days that the surge is upon us at this point. This is the beginning of what we have related to be the storm that we have to brace up for. We are here to see the level of preparations that can be demonstrated in the Gauteng province,” he said.

“Gauteng for the past three days has surged to have the highest number of COVID-19 infections…and the numbers are going to be increasing. What we are seeing in Gauteng is not surprising.”

Mkhize said the peak of COVID-19 infection is upon us.

“We are now basically going to be seeing the peak of the epidemic. Part of the reason why we have to keep working very closely with provincial government is the fact that we expect that there will be lots of pressure on the hospitals and their beds. The initial strategy we had adopted when we started with preparation was to designate a few hospitals for COVID-19 and these were going to be referral centres; but the patter which was taken by the spread of infection made us change a few things,” he said.

“Once we got the lockdown in place and managed to shift the growing numbers, then we were able to approach it differently. When we went from Level 4 to Level 3, we opened up services meaning that some of the beds we thought would be left for COVID patients, we had to reoccupy them to ensure that patients with diabetes, blood pressure, cancer and HIV being kept up of hospitals.”

Now, more field hospital beds need to be prioritised.

“As a result, thereof, it meant that we have to now provide more field hospital beds. We then had said to all the hospitals that you need to create triage centres which are marquees wherein people who walk in must be separated immediately,” Mkhize said.

“Those who have straight forward comorbidities and other ailments must be taken into the hospital while those who have symptoms suggesting that they could have COVID-19 must be kept aside and be investigated until confirmed if they are COVID-19 positive. If they are COVID-19 positive, they must be taken straight to be treated in an area where COVID-19 positive patients and COVID-19 negative patients do not mix.”

Mkhize said COVID-19 numbers “have started building up to quite a large degree”.

“More patients are coming to hospitals and as a result, the beds we have are under pressure.  We have not yet reached our capacity for non-ICU beds. We are at a level where we can see the number of admissions are rising very fast,” he said.

We have from last week taken an emergency decision that the NDOH at a national level would create an emergency intervention unit that is going to work with provincial government to bring in additional beds. These are temporary beds you will see in marquees in most of the hospitals.”