Health Minister rallies around Eastern Cape’s COVID fight

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has returned to the Eastern Cape province for the second time in two weeks as the province battles a resurgence in positive COVID-19 cases – this time to oversee efforts to curb the transmission of the virus.

Mkhize will spend two days visiting medical facilities to assess their readiness for a spike in patients infected with COVID-19, participate in community awareness programmes, and meet with key stakeholders in the province.

Last week, Mkhize visited the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth where he was briefed by provincial officials about the current trends in the epidemiology of the virus in the province. Stemming from the outcomes of that meeting, Mkhize believes there are three key aspects which must now be focussed on to mitigate the further spread of the virus in the province.

“We are here because there is clearly a resurgence in the Nelson Mandela Bay. Indeed, it is a concern that we are seeing in a few other areas. The whole country has got bubbles of small cluster outbreaks which we are seeing but they are transient. Nelson Mandela Bay has continued to fester and in effect our concern is that something has to be done,” he told a delegation at the Nelson Mandela University.

“We have seen the numbers of positive cases increasing in Nelson Mandela Bay and Eastern Cape. We have seen the number of people admitted in hospital has increased, the numbers of people recorded to have lost their lives has also increased and the percentage of people positive has also increased.”

Mkhize was addressing senior officials from the National Department of Health, their counterparts in the provincial department and members of the executive at the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

“A few days ago, I did indicate that we are seeing the numbers beginning to breach the 3,000 positive cases per day and we were concerned about that. It is an indication that we are moving far from where we were. Most of the numbers in the past few weeks were driven by provinces delayed in their earlier surge such as Free State, Northern Cape and Limpopo,” he said.

“Clearly now the numbers are now driven by new cases, mainly in two provinces, Eastern Cape, which on daily numbers reflect about 50 to 55% of daily positive cases, followed by Western Cape which on a daily report seems to increase by 25%.”

Mkhize said there are three key aspects that this visit is focused on.

The first is case management.

“Last week I was here and it was at that time I went to have a look at how the bed situation was. I was taken through a report that the VW hospital beds are occupied at 20%, about 280 patients in a total of about 1500 beds. I went to both Dora Ngiza Hospital which had commissioned new additional beds and Livingstone Hospital. I was quite comfortable that there are now additional beds to absorb new patients,” he said.

“It has been brought to my attention that there are still problems. There is a problem of a bottleneck at the admissions and casualty areas. This tends to happen every time we get an upsurge. We have had to deal with this in Western Cape and Gauteng as well…What we need to then do is to sit down and go through the practical issues of why that is the case.”

The second aspect is community containment programmes.

“It is important for us to understand that we will not be able to defeat COVID-19 in the hospitals. It is the behaviour of the community. We want to send a message that the fight is in the hands of the community and where communities fail, the whole society will fail,” he said.

The third aspect is the encouragement of COVID-19 testing.

“I think it is important to encourage counsellors and other leaders to mobilise every ward to be out there talking to people about prevention, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine and the early presentation to hospital.”

The minister and his delegation will later visit malls and shopping centres to inspect whether COVID-19 prevention measures are being adhered to in places where people congregate; will meet traditional, community and religious leaders; and visit well-known bars, shebeens and taverns to speak to those in the industry about mitigating the risk of COVID-19 infection at places where alcohol is consumed.

On Friday, the minister is expected to continue the programme with visits to hotspot areas as well as the VW Field Hospital.