Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Thursday visited healthcare facilities in KwaZulu-Natal ahead of what is expected to be a peak in COVID-19 cases in the weeks to come.

Mkhize met provincial management to assess their readiness for a sharp rise in positive cases as well as the bed capacity and infrastructure available at key locations. As part of his first day in the province, the minister visited the Edendale Hospital, Richmond Hospital and Clairwood Hospital.

“The surge in KZN came about two weeks after Gauteng. We must therefore focus on KZN. The numbers are such that KZN is the third highest in terms of numbers. My expectation is that sometime next week, KZN will have more positive patients than what we recorded in Western Cape. The province needs to be ready. We came here to assess the readiness,” Mkhize said in a media briefing.

“I am satisfied that the records of number of patients and the recording of the epidemic is being done properly. Secondly, we have seen that the number of positive patients are increasing but what is important for us is that there are no hospitals that are full.”

He said the province should be able to accommodate an influx of COVID-19 patients.

“The bed occupancy is still fairly low. That means we will be able to accommodate many of the patients that may come up…I think that the province is on course in terms of readiness,” Mkhize said.

“We are going to be making sure that the issues of PPEs for staff is taken care of and that we tighten up management…We have to make sure that our healthcare workers do not continue to be infected.”

The minister again emphasized the need for South Africans to wear face masks in public, regularly wash or sanitize their hands and practice social distancing.

“We are now living with the reality of COVID-19. It is no longer a story we read about from China, Italy or America. It is a reality where now each one of us can talk about friends, relatives, and colleagues who have suffered the infection. It makes it very different from the time we started talking about COVID-19 at the beginning of March,” he said.

“Through our models and the reality on the ground, we were expecting the numbers were going to increase. We expected a surge at some point during the Winter months. When we put up the lockdown, we did say that we would never stop the infection from rising and we also anticipated that many people would be infected and that literally anyone can be infected. That is now the reality we are living in.”

Mkhize said the early lockdown delayed the spike in cases that the country now faces.

“What we have seen in the past few months has been a very different presentation of the COVID-19 pandemic from what we initially thought it would be. We initially thought it would be a huge surge in the whole country with Gauteng being the highest. Firstly, the surge didn’t come quite as early as May or June when we initially thought it would come. All our modellers indicated that the fact that we had an early lockdown deferred the surge to about June and July,” he said.

Mkhize will continue his visit to the province on Friday.