KwaZulu-Natal is emerging as an epicentre in the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 3 000 new infections in the province reported daily since the weekend.
By Sunday, the number of cases in the province had risen to 60 532, with 3 405 new infections being noted since the previous day. On Monday, the number of cases stood at 65 982, placing KwaZulu-Natal behind the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and the Western Cape in totals, but giving it the highest rate of increase in infections in the country.
On Sunday Premier Sihle Zikalala told a media briefing in Durban that a number of factors, including people holding large funerals and other functions, had contributed to the spike in the infection rate in the province and creating hotspots. People also delay getting tested or treated until they are at an advanced stage of the illness.
“The storm is here. It is with us now. Trends tell us that KwaZulu-Natal is now in the eye of the storm,” Zikalala said. “The picture has dramatically changed, we have now arrived at a point where almost everybody knows somebody who has been infected. It is here at home.”
He said people needed to change their behaviour, both by maintaining hygiene protocols and by changing their social activities, no matter how difficult this might be.
One such change was funerals, which had started to become larger again despite the regulations limiting the number of people allowed to attend them, causing a spike in infections in rural areas around the province as well as in the major urban centres.
Zikalala said the government was also in talks with amakhosi and izinduna, as well as with counsellors and other local leaders, about using their influence to get people to reduce the number of people at funerals.
“We plead with citizens to adhere to protocols that regulate the number of people who attend funerals and ceremonies, which is not more than 50 people. There should be less at the burial site,” he said. “This practice is against our spirit of ubuntu, but to adhere to it would be to honour our departed compatriots and to keep ourselves safe.”
The province faces an additional problem in that infected people go to health facilities for testing and treatment when the disease is at an advanced stage, because they fear they will die if they’re admitted to hospital. “This is not true,” Zikalala said.
He said anecdotal evidence suggested that people were “relying a little too much on alternative treatments” for Covid-19, instead of getting formal medical treatment immediately.
The province has enough capacity to accommodate Covid-19 patients in its health facilities, with 11 800 of 16 000 beds remaining unoccupied, according to Zikalala. A number of field hospitals and temporary quarantine sites have been established, but the province needed additional quarantine facilities it would lease bed and breakfasts, hotels and lodges rather than building new ones.
Zikalala has encouraged people who test positive to go into quarantine in state facilities rather than at home.
A total of 2 167 health workers — more than half of whom are nurses — had tested positive for Covid-19 and 16 had died since the beginning of the pandemic.