Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Friday welcomed the first 16 of 43 experts dispatched by the World Health Organisation to assist South Africa in its fight against COVID-19.

The experts, dubbed the ‘Surge Team’, will mainly assist in the surveillance and streamlining of epidemiological systems, oversee the implementation of WHO global COVID-19 response guidelines and assist with bolstering case management.

Speaking at the welcoming ceremony in Pretoria, Mkhize said when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, he made a commitment to the country that we government was adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of the onward spread of Coronavirus infection.

“Since then we have received continued support on many levels from the WHO. It has been through robust scientific engagement with this organisation that we have been able to make governmental undertakings to manage the COVID-19 outbreak,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize dispelled concerns that the team is arriving too late.

“We have received queries why there would be a need for the Surge Team if we are past the surge. I would like to emphasize for our people that we are not past anything: we are still the country with the fifth highest positive cases in the world,” he said.

“We are only now considering easing some of the restrictions and we are still to cross that critical juncture of re-opening of our borders. Apart from the impact on the health system that this virus has had, we are still faced with the devastation it has caused in our social lives, our well-being, the economy and the environment.

With the threat of resurgence remaining very real, we would not want to repeat recent history witnessed in some countries and allow a second surge to wreak even further destruction.”

Mkhize said it possible to beat COVID-19 through multi-sectoral collaboration.

“South Africa and many other nations have shown that it is possible, through multi-sectoral collaboration, to slow down the rate of infection and rebuild livelihoods after the initial devastation,” he said.

“With this team buttressing our efforts we should further look for opportunities to emancipate the impoverished, the oppressed and the vulnerable using innovations that have emanated from the crisis.”