Doctors and nurses of Cuba's Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade take part in a farewell ceremony before travelling to Andorra to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, at the Central Unit of Medical Cooperation in Havana, on March 28, 2020. (Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images)
Just over 200 Cubans, including doctors, are on their way to South Africa to assist in the battle against the spread of Covid-19.
The medical personnel will land at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday and will go straight into quarantine for 14 days in Pretoria. About 30 Cubans will be assigned to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the rest will assist the department of health.
“These are doctors who have been to Europe and elsewhere, who understand the signs and symptoms of the virus and the clinical management of the Covid-19 and how to treat it,” said health department spokesperson Popo Maja.
Their arrival follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa’s now five-week national lockdown will be eased. From May 1, there will be a phased reopening of the economy.
He also said he had deployed more than 70 000 SANDF personnel to assist in the response to Covid-19. Ramaphosa said the defence force assistance will not be limited to supporting the police in enforcing lockdown regulations but will include providing health services, infrastructure maintenance and water.
Early this month the government said it had met the Cuban ambassador to South Africa, Rodolfo Benitez, in March and that the Cubans had shown interest in providing assistance.
At the time of publishing there were 4 220 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 79 deaths and 1 473 recoveries.
One of the most worrying provinces in the country is the Eastern Cape, where Health Minister Zweli Mkhize had to intervene and send a team to assist with the tracing, screening and testing of people, particularly in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.
On Tuesday, the province’s numbers rose to about 10% of the national infection tally and Mkhize said more medical specialists, including epidemiologists, analysts and field consultants should be deployed there. About 200 cases of Covid-19 have been linked to three funerals in that province, as people fail to adhere to lockdown regulations and continue to gather in big numbers.
In Port Elizabeth alone 160 cases have been registered as result of two funerals, and the 40 cases in the coastal town of Port St Johns are also linked to a funeral.
The arrival of the Cubans in the country could assist with curbing the spread of the virus particularly in the provinces where the numbers are increasing rapidly.
On Thursday night, Ramaphosa said there would be a smart lockdown, with provinces and regions going through different levels of measures depending on how Covid-19 is spreading. This could mean that some provinces are seeing a more severe lockdown than their neighbours.