Move over, Western Cape
On Wednesday night, as a cold front moved in and you doubled up on duvets, Gauteng became South Africa’s #1 Covid-19 hotspot. By Thursday morning the province accounted for 33.4% of the nation’s total cases, followed by the previous epicentre, the Western Cape (with 32.6% of total cases).
On Thursday morning we sat at a national total of more than 224,665 cases — and the numbers are moving fast. A lot of attention is focused on the situation in Gauteng: our most populous province and economic centre is approaching its peak earlier than anticipated and hospitals are starting to fill up.
It’s easy to despair as you watch this horror show unfold. But remember, there’s a lot you can do even if the situation feels hopeless. For starters, it’s important to know the facts (that’s why we’re here 😉). Second, and just as crucially, there is plenty you can do to stay safe.
Here are five key questions you probably have right now – and the answers you need.
1. How many cases have been reported?
As of 8 July, Gauteng has 75 015 confirmed cases. On average, new cases in Gauteng have been increasing by about 4 000 daily; this rapid rise is speeding up the pace at which the province reaches its peak.
2. What is meant by a peak?
Infectious disease specialist Dr Jeremy Nel told explain that the peak is the highest number of NEW infections the epidemic reaches in a single day. In the coming days and weeks, the daily increase will get higher and higher before this rate starts to slow.
Gauteng MEC Dr Bandile Masuku told the SABC on Tuesday that cases in the province could reach up to 120,000 by the end of July. That means the number of cases could increase by 45,000 in the space of three weeks. This peak was originally projected to happen in mid-August or September, but Masuku said the date has been brought forward. Why? That’s down to us, Masuku told the national broadcaster: when Level 3 regulations were introduced, people started moving around more and not always taking things like social distancing into account. He also cited increased interprovincial travel for funerals and other events as a reason for the increase in the number of cases.
3. What happens after the peak?
According to Dr Nel, the rate of new infections will gradually drop. Sadly that doesn’t mean the worst is necessarily over. The second phase of the 1918 Spanish Flu was deadlier than the first wave. That’s why some countries, like the UK, are re-strategising in anticipation of a second wave.
It’s also important to point out that the rest of South Africa is pretty much on par with Gauteng’s peak. The updated model projections indicate that while “the epidemic is predicted to peak nationally at a similar time to the previously projected optimistic curve (that is mid-August), it does so at a lower level,” Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a ministerial statement on Wednesday. This means that fewer people were infected in May and June than was previously predicted even under the optimistic scenario, he said.
4. So, that means our hospitals should be ready, right?
For now, yes, according to Mkhize. But concern is mounting over hospital capacity, personal protective equipment (PPE) stock and ventilators.
Mkhize said while the updated model projects a lower need for hospital (non-ICU) and ICU beds at a national level, bed capacity is still expected to be breached or overwhelmed in all provinces.
“Currently planned hospital beds in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are projected to be insufficient for combined non-ICU bed demand and the overflow from ICU once ICU capacity has been breached,” he said. He added that bed capacity (including all currently committed public and private sector beds) is expected to be breached in the next four weeks.
According to the Gauteng Provincial Command Council’s most recent weekly media update (published on July 2), the province’s current combined private and public bed capacity is 8,730. The government plans to add an additional 2,171 beds in public hospitals, bringing the provincial total to 10 901.
Gauteng is now creating a burial site for over 20,000 people as corona-related deaths are set to spike.
Although beds are not enough, Mkhize added in his statement that the health department has:
- Activated 139 quarantine facilities (with a total of 12,532 beds) across the country;
- Started implementing what it calls the “surge strategy”, during which the department repurposed a total of 27,467 beds for Covid-19, increasing beds to 40 309 as the provinces see a sudden rise in the number of cases;
- Received R185 million in donations from the Solidarity Fund, which will go towards the procurement of PPE for frontline health workers. The minister said as per a 7 July assessment, there is sufficient PPE stock available for frontline health workers;
- Collaborated with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition for the local design, development, production and procurement of respiratory ventilators; and
- Received 1000 ventilators from the US.
5. What can I do to stay safe ahead of the peak?
We’ll remind you of the obvious: Wash your hands with soap and water, sanitise frequently, wear a mask, keep your distance and avoid going out as much as you can. We’re in the middle of a crazy Covid-19 storm, and you should probably be on high alert now more than ever.
If we haven’t convinced you, here’s advice directly from infectious diseases expert Dr Jeremy Nel:
- The few weeks on either side of the peak are the period when people are most likely to get infected. Don’t take any unnecessary risks at this time.
- As far as possible, don’t congregate in groups. Don’t mix socially. Be very vigilant about hand hygiene, wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance between people. Good ventilation is key, especially in public spaces.
- It’s particularly important for elderly people or people with comorbidities to be very cautious around this time. People should also try to stay out of hospitals (where they might pick up Covid-19) as far as possible.
- Defer your general checkup visits or other non-essential visits. That goes for chronic medicine prescriptions, too: try to get a repeat prescription instead of trying to see your doctor for an updated script over this period.