Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says despite the huge COVID-19 surge that has resulted in South Africa ranking the fifth in the world for positive cases, there are reasons to be hopeful.
Mkhize was speaking at a national COVID-19 conference on Friday.
He said the hard lockdown in March was undeniably effective, resulting in a demonstrable flattening of the COVID-19 infection curve.
“We needed time to prepare our health services to be able to manage the large influx of patients during the inevitable surge. However, after 5 weeks of hard lockdown hunger, lack of food and income security resulted in social and economic distress and it became necessary to focus on saving both lives and livelihoods. Thus began the differentiated approach of easing restrictions through our alert level system,” Mkhize said.
We embarked on this re-opening of the economy with the full understanding that an increase in numbers of cases was inevitable.”
South Africa’s current COVID-19 fatalities stands at 7812. The recovery rate has also increased to 64%.
Western Cape has passed its infection peak and maintained a plateau for the past two months whilst early indications of promising declines are observed in Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
“For these reasons we have to intensify the non-pharmaceutical interventions and emphasise behavioural change to force reduction of new infections in all provinces,” Mkhize said.
A multi-sectoral Ministerial Advisory Committee which focuses on ground mobilization for behavioural change was therefore established. This seeks to forge collaboration with behavioural scientists, civil society, communities, traditional leaders, traditional healers, religious organisations, labour and all stakeholders who are able to effect change at grassroots level.
Mkhize said there are still challenges with bed capacity, personal protective equipment and triaging mechanisms.
“Contact tracing for quarantine and isolation remains key to breaking the cycle of community transmission. We have now augmented our track and tracing functions to be supported by a digital system called COVIDConnect where users can interact with the health care system on a digital platform for case identification, tracking and tracing and referral to quarantine, isolation or hospitalization,” he said.
“We still need to work on increasing human resources for health of all categories, expedite the filling of vacancies and recruit new staff. Additional ventilators and oxygen supply is pivotal and the National Ventilator Programme is an important development in this regard.”
Mkhize also thanked President Cyril Ramaphosa for his “unwavering support and stewardship”.
“President Ramaphosa has led from the front, mobilizing all spheres of government and various sectors of society and galvanizing all our energy, focus and resources to mount a formidable fight to defeat COVID-19. This has given our people hope, courage and the determination to defeat COVID-19.”