Mkhize addresses COVID cluster outbreaks in Eastern Cape

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says there is a need to urgently iron out any issues which may hinder the fight against COVID-19 in Eastern Cape.

The province has for the past few weeks experienced surges in positive COVID-19 cases in a number of districts and sub-districts – contributing to a 50% spike in week-to-week numbers.

This prompted urgent action by Mkhize and the National Department of Health, who met with Eastern Cape government officials on Tuesday to discuss an action plan to deal with the rising case numbers.

“There was a time when the whole country was going to through a surge and the numbers came down into a plateau. Most provinces that still have high numbers, they are basically still trying to come down from their first wave; but Eastern Cape is different,” Mkhize said.

“We are now starting to get new cluster outbreaks. There are cluster outbreaks that we have to manage aggressively. If we don’t do so, that is the beginning of the pandemic getting out of control…It is still very possible that we can suppress this wave and therefore delay the resurgence.”

Mkhize received reports from various municipalities as well as from the provincial health department which focussed on the epidemiology of the virus in the province.

“We do need to go out into the community and try to reduce this as much as possible. There are a few steps that we want to proposed and support so that we move forward,” Mkhize said during his address at the Livingstone Hospital.


He discussed a number of steps which need to be taken urgently:

Reinforcement of staff

“We have agreed that we should move the Cuban doctors and also get support from Doctors Without Borders to reinforce where we need more doctors…If we need to go to other parts of the country and say we need so many doctors to reinforce the Eastern Cape, let’s do so,” he said.

“We had increased the number of nurses that needed to be employed during the surge so I need to know what happened because I have heard that you have lost some of those nurses. Where there is a challenge of the shortage of nurses, that needs to be addressed.”


Testing capacity and PPE

Mkhize said the turnaround time for testing should not be delayed.

“The other issue that I was glad to hear is the issue of PPE for the staff. We went through that issue in a very difficult way before, because our staff and our unions were complaining. We took a decision that for every facility, there should be an Occupational Health and Safety Committee consisting of staff, labour unions and management. The reason for this is that we had enough stock in some areas, but the distribution was a problem. I am happy there is no issue this time,” he said.


Staff exhaustion

Mkhize said staff exhaustion is a massive concern.

“There is an issue that is a matter of real concern, that is the staff exhaustion. We have asked that all the provinces must work out a plan that helps the staff. It is matter of the mental strain associated with the way we organise the work, the amount of information people have as they deal with problems, and the extent to which they can get rest…We must not take this lightly,” he said.


Social behavioural change

Mkhize was shown pictures of taverns, street parties and festivals where COVID-19 regulations were not being adhered to. In these instances, there were a large number of people in a confined area – all of whom were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Mkhize said businesses organisations that are not complying to COVID-19 prevention protocols should be closed down or fined.


The minister will continue his visit to the Eastern Cape with inspections of the Nelson Mandela Bay testing site, the Dora Ngiza Hospital and the VW field hospital.