What Health minister Zweli Mkhize as tagged as an alarming resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the Western Cape has been contradicted by the province’s premier as wrong the Department of Health’s own definitions.
Mkhize sounded the alarm last week about a spike in coronavirus cases in some provinces, drawing particular attention to a “resurgence” in the Western Cape. South Africa has recorded more than 706,000 cases of COVID-19, and slightly more than 18,650 deaths since the first case was confirmed in early March. Business Day reports that the trend in new infections is one of the key indicators the health department reports to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), which determines the government’s response to the pandemic.
“After reading and analysing our country’s epidemiological reports, as the minister of health, I cannot help but be concerned,” Mkhize said. “It would be irresponsible of us to ignore ‘small flames’ that we see redeveloping in some parts of the country. You will recall that a few months ago when we witnessed these trends, it wasn’t long before we started experiencing a burden in our health system. Our epidemiological reports are showing that in the country, over the last seven days, there has been an increase of 9.1% in new cases. Similarly, over the last 14 days, there has been an increase of 10.7%,” he said.
But, the report says, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde took issue with the minister’s use of the term “resurgence”. While there had indeed been a rise in cases, it was not on the scale described by the minister, he said. “The department of health’s own definition of a resurgence is an increase of more than 20% in new cases over a seven-day period. The Western Cape has not recorded such an increase in the past seven days,” he said.
University of KwaZulu-Natal epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim, who is also co-chair of the minister’s advisory committee on COVID-19, said he was monitoring three key indicators – the seven-day moving average of new infections confirmed by laboratories, the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions, and the test positivity rate which measures the number of positive tests against the number performed.
Taken together, these three indicators pointed to “a situation of low transmission with a gradual upward trend”, driven principally by Western Cape, Free State and the Northern Cape, he said. “The reasons why this is concerning is that is how the epidemic started – it rose first in the Western Cape and that is why we have to keep a very close eye on it.” The test positivity rate had been in a narrow range of 8.3%-8.1% for the past three weeks, said Karim. “We want to bring that down below 5%.”
Karim said stringent restrictions in place during level 5 and level 4 should be seen as a measure of last resort. “That means we are going to have to deal with local outbreaks … and if necessary institute restrictions at a district level.”
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