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Gauteng’s third-wave contagion is heading towards a worst-case scenario

Gauteng is currently driving the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, as the daily numbers of new cases show. This was confirmed by Dr Mary Kawonga, the chair of Gauteng premier’s advisory committee on Covid-19.

“This week has been very hectic in Gauteng, as the province is driving the speed of the spread of the virus. As a result, there is a high and growing risk in Gauteng,” she said. “Although there are many people not tested as well, the testing system cannot catch up with the rising infections. We should have a below 5% test positivity rate to say the virus is under control, but all provinces are now above 10%.

“We are heading towards the worst-case scenario, and we have advised the government that tighter restrictions are needed for Gauteng. However, we want those measures also to be balanced with economic considerations. Level five would be too stringent on people’s livelihoods and also too late to have any impact,” she added.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the province would do whatever is needed to address the shortage of additional space and beds to accommodate the rising Covid-19 admissions in hospitals. 

“We are planning stricter measures for the province. However, there are some issues that we need to discuss with the National Coronavirus Command Council. Therefore, we can’t announce anything yet,” said Makhura.

During his budget vote speech on Thursday, Makhura said implementing a level-five lockdown restrictions for Gauteng was impossible, because doing so would cripple the recovering economy.

He said the main concern is that the infections have not reached their peak yet, and the numbers may continue to increase. Gauteng is set to peak by the first week of July.

Makhura added that there are currently 5 800 people hospitalised in Gauteng because of the virus; this figure includes both public and private hospitals. The department is activating additional beds in storage to deal with capacity constraints. 

“Gauteng was saved during the second wave. We are saying to the people, ‘the pandemic is everywhere. Please play safe: we are not out of danger yet. The virus cannot be underestimated.’ Covid fatigue will lead to more infections and death, so we want people to remain vigilant,” Makhura added.

“We will utilise whatever resources we have to get more personnel. It’s no use to increase beds with a shortage of personnel. We have retained many healthcare workers that were brought in to assist with fighting the pandemic. The province needs more staff as the numbers are surging.”

Charlotte Maxeke to reopen to ease load

Makhura said the province had decided to reopen the parts of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital that are still structurally strong.

In April, a fire forced the hospital to shut down. 

The premier said he has met the South African Human Rights Commission and Gift of the Givers, both of which support the plans to reopen the hospital.

“Charlotte Maxeke has got some of the top clinicians we have in this country. It supports district hospitals. We got engineers to access the hospital; they said only block four as a whole was structurally damaged. Many blocks are usable and, therefore, we will reopen them,” said Makhura.

He added that waiting until September for all compliances to be met was not an option. 

“The people from Charlotte Maxeke are now burdening other hospitals. We understand that this will not solve the problem, but it will ease the burden on other hospitals. Chris Hani Baragwanath and Steve Biko Academic Hospital have both confirmed that they are feeling the pressure,” Makhura said. 

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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