Mkhize hints at further easing of lockdown?

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize might be hinting that the lockdown will be further eased, when he explained at a media briefing that scientific models showed that continuing with a hard lockdown was no longer necessary.

“Continuing with the lockdown would not stop the spread; we are pleased with what has happened. Even if we make the lockdown longer, it wouldn’t have made our scientific curve much different,” he is quoted as saying.

“There’s a constant spread of infection (seen) in hospital and screening programmes, but we have not seen a rapid rise,’ Mkhize said.

Mkhize said researchers and scientists had compared different stages of transmission since the virus came to South Africa and established that fatalities were not nearly where they were expected to be. An analysis of those who have been treated in hospital showed the level of positive tests was stable between 3% and 3.8%.

Mkhize has, however expressed concern about the huge risk group comprising of South Africans suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, reports The Times. This worry, Mkhize said, was born of the fact that these were the most common underlying medical conditions of those who had died of COVID-19 to date. “Studies have continuously shown that there is a strong association of adverse outcomes – that is serious illness or death – from COVID-19 infection with pre-existing comorbidities. Underlying diseases tend to be a big challenge. The three that are currently emerging to be the most commonly associated comorbidities are hypertension – that is high blood pressure – and diabetes and obesity,” he said. “In our country we have a very significant burden of all these three diseases.”

“These risk factors are important to take into account because they are also serious factors when it comes to the conduct of the COVID-19 infection,” he said.

The report says in the digital briefing, Mkhize also raised concern about other comorbidities – which can affect smokers – and also the ages of those who had died to date. “The other challenges, the other comorbidities, such as lung diseases, asthma, chronic obstructive airway disease, some of which are also seen among smokers, are also very important comorbidities that have been associated.”

Mkhize struck a defensive tone during his marathon briefing, dismissing criticism over early projection models, surveys showing support for the COVID-19 lockdown had waned and the arrival of more than 200 Cuban doctors this week. News24 reports that the gave a clear analysis in support of the lockdown, highlighting that it had pushed back the the peak infection rate of COVID-19 to September, a key objective.

Mkhize said modelling had shown that extending the lockdown further would not have a substantial benefit on pushing the peak infection curve further back. “The nature of the spread of the infection has not stopped completely because of the lockdown,” he added. “The fact that we are not seeing as many deaths as in the rest of the world, does not mean it cannot happen in South Africa… I think we need to take it a little more seriously,” he said.

The report says he defended the decision to bring in more than 200 Cuban doctors, saying their expertise in community-wide health would be key in the coming weeks.

Mkhize revealed that one doctor has died of COVID-19 in South Africa, but he did not contract the respiratory illness in the country. He is quoted in The Times as saying that the government was doing its best to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided for all health care workers.

He said 135 front-line health workers in South Africa had so far contracted COVID-19. “…This covers the private and public sector,” he said. “Among these there have been doctors, nurses, technicians and other members of staff, so we have gone to check what was the basis of their infection.

According to the report Mkhize said details of where the 134 health workers were from and what they did would be released at a later stage.

Meanwhile, Netcare hospitals have been affected by COVID-19, says a Mail & Guardian report. St Augustines in Durban was closed at the beginning of April when 48 health workers tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 10 staff members at Kingsway in Amanzimtoti have contracted the disease and the hospital has been closed since mid-April.

Health workers have also tested positive at other private hospitals – New Shifa Hosptial in Durban, Hibiscus Hospital in Port Shepstone and Eden Gardens Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. Employees at two state hospitals in Durban, Addington and Albert Luthuli, have also been infected.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) provincial secretary Mandla Shabangu said that cross infection between hospitals had been exacerbated by “sessioning” – staff members who work for agencies are sent to different hospitals as the need arises.

The report says Netcare KZN regional director Craig Murphy decline to comment on how many staff members at Netcare facilities had been infected or how many of its employees who had tested positive had also worked in state hospitals or clinics during the virus’s incubation period. He said health workers and patients at the hospitals had been tested and a tracing programme run on all of those who had been exposed.

According to a Sunday Tribune report, Addington Hospital is sitting on a time bomb as management comes under fire for allegedly hiding information on the infection rate after more nurses and a doctor apparently tested positive for COVID-19. It is now alleged that at least four nurses at Addington Hospital were placed in isolation at the public facility after testing positive for COVID-19.

It is alleged that a nurse had confirmed that her husband, who worked at St Augustine’s Hospital, had tested positive and infected the family, and they were in isolation at their home.

The report says Denosa’s Shabangu said they had been informed there were cases of theatre workers testing positive at Addington. He said staff was concerned the infection rate could escalate after those thought to have contracted the virus were ordered to work while awaiting test results.

KZN Health Department spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said stringent clinical guidelines and protocols from the World Health Organisation were in place for the provision of treatment to COVID-19 patients and to avoid reinfection. Maphisa said in cases where health-care workers were infected, the government was obliged to provide the necessary care and treatment.

“Mapping and tracing of their contacts are also conducted so they, too, can be screened and tested alongside the patients, in order to curb the further spread of the virus.The affected section of the hospital may be closed, to allow for decontamination as part of the prevention of infection and control process.”

Full report in The Times

Full News24 report

Full report in The Times

Full Mail & Guardian report

Full Sunday Tribune report

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