WRAP: Mkhize says scientific models helped SA avoid a Covid-19 ‘explosion’
South Africa has thus far averted a “rapid explosion” of Covid-19, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says, with the lockdown playing a huge part in stymying a possibly uncontrollable spread.
The minister presented slides on the latest developments regarding Covid-19 in the country.
Mkhize said the number of cases have increased every day, and experts told the department that this was because of a high number of people being referred from community screenings.
The second factor is that the communal spread of Covid-19 means the spread will continue despite the lockdown, Mkhize said, reiterating the importance of physical distancing and good hygiene.
This second factor is what is “driving” the infection rates, he said, but he noted that there hasn’t been a “rapid explosion” of cases.
The minister said, in other countries, the virus spreads quickly and reaches a peak and at that point health services are overwhelmed.
Conversely, South Africa decided to institute a lockdown to delay the spread. This was on the advice of mathematical models which showed the possible scenarios.
One of the models mirrored the worldwide trend of the virus spreading fast. The advice showed “optimistic” and “pessimistic” outcomes – that being the country being able to cope with cases, and the country being overwhelmed respectively.
Mkhize said the lockdown stymied what could have been an “exponential rise” in cases. “When we addressed the media two weeks ago… we indicated that the lockdown was able to contain the spread, not stop the spread.
“We are quite pleased with what has happened,” he said.
Mkhize noted that the government’s decisions during the lockdown have been made on scientific advice, including the looming relaxation of regulations starting on 1 May.
The additional two weeks of lockdown, Mkhize said, allowed the country to screen a lot more people.
Mkhize rebuffed claims in the media that the mathematical models the government used were “flawed”, saying they are done by a number of groups.
Mkhize said about 135 medical staff members have been infected with the virus. He said the government was investigating the sources of the infection of each case.
He said only one health worker had died, which was an elderly Limpopo doctor who was working part time.
Regarding concerns surrounding protective gear for medical staff, Mkhize said the country will face some challenges with stock, but was confident there is enough to go around at the moment.
He said the government was looking to negotiate with other countries in getting more protective gear.
Unemployed doctors, and Cuban doctors
Mkhize said the government is looking at clearing the backlog of unemployed doctors, and he has informed provinces to “go ahead” with employing doctors who are looking for placement.
He said the government is still looking for more doctors.
Mkhize said there is a group of doctors who qualified overseas who are without work. They have not yet been registered with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA). He said those “are not possible to employ” until they’ve passed relevant examinations and gone through the process.
Mkhize supported the incoming of 217 Cuban doctors, adding that they will “not be taking anybody’s post”. He said Cuban doctors will be spread across all provinces.
Mkhize added that studies have shown that there is a “strong” correlation of death and serious Covid-19 illness when a person has already-existing “comorbidities” – existing ailments – especially hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Lung diseases are also associated ailments that deteriorates a person’s condition when they contract the virus.
More than one-third of South Africans, for example, have hypertension, Mkhize said, adding that all these so-called comorbidities were common in South Africa.
It is not clear yet, however, how those living with HIV/Aids cope with Covid-19.
Mkhize said South Africa’s mortality rate is around 1,9%, probably because the majority of people who contracted the virus are on the younger side.
Meanwhile, there have been three more deaths, taking the death toll to 93. All deaths were elderly people from the Western Cape with “underlying challenges”, Mkhize said.
The minister announced that the country was just on the cusp of 5 000 positive cases, sitting at 4 996 as of Tuesday night.
Mkhize said the number of tests being done is “rapidly increasing” thanks to the government’s community testings and screenings.
To put this into perspective, in the first week of March, when the first cases were announced, about 430 tests were done. The following week it was doubled. In the first week of April, however, it was as high as 8 200 across the private and public sector.
There are three groups of people who are being tested: those in the private sector, public sector, and those who are being referred from community screenings.