Covid-19 info lags as cases shoot up

The implementation of the national lockdown, eight months ago this week, was meant to allow the government enough time to develop means to contain the spread of Covid-19. As part of flattening the curve and keeping citizens updated the department of health developed an online platform for daily updates on the spread of the pandemic.

The website, with its related Covid Alert SA app, successfully managed for the first few months to update the number of cases in the country; including the death toll, positive patients and the rate of recoveries.

Currently, more than 775 500 people are infected with the virus in the country and we have had more than 21 000 deaths. 

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament this week that the leading province was the Eastern Cape. The Mail & Guardian last week reported that the province was responsible for more than half of the country’s new positive cases.

Mkhize said the Western Cape was becoming a concern as numbers begin to increase, but said it was too early to confirm whether the spike in cases formed part of a second wave. 

However, the department’s coronavirus website still lists only nine hospitals where those infected with Covid‑19 can isolate and be treated.

The list does not include Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and Lenasia South Hospital, among others that now have secured wards strictly for Covid-19 cases including patients under investigation.

Parts of the website carry outdated information regarding questions, testing centres and the addresses where Mkhize announced that 10 000 community healthcare workers would be deployed. The information is provided under a page named “latest measures”. 

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja did not respond to questions about the delay in updating critical information on the website.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed that the government’s website had not been updated to reflect that many hospitals in the Western Cape region are taking on more Covid-19 cases, especially with the province threatened with the second wave of the pandemic.

MSF said if only the initial nine hospitals listed on the website took Covid cases, the system would have been overwhelmed.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said in a statement, “Our Brackengate Hospital of Hope went from having just a few patients in September to 109 as of [Wednesday]. Since the start of November, Covid‑19 hospitalisations across the province have increased by 63%. The private sector has increased by 94%, while the public sector has increased by 39%.”

He said there was a resurgence of cases, with numbers increasing above 20% week-on-week, with one instance of a 52.1% increase, and urged residents to keep safe.

“The Western Cape government has intentionally reintroduced key healthcare services to our facilities because of Covid-19.

“Our hospitals are already fuller than they were earlier this year, during the first wave of hospitalisations. We want to avoid at all costs having to de-escalate their essential services once again because this will have a detrimental impact on the health of our people. We have to save all lives, including those who don’t have Covid-19,” said Winde. 

Gauteng, which has the highest number of cases at 233 000, has also been flagged for inaccurate data.

According to the national department of health, there is a need to reconcile and update daily numbers data in Gauteng.

“We have brought this to the attention of the province and they have indicated that they are in the process of harmonising the data. For this reason, we will not be reporting the recoveries and active cases in the province for today [25 November] while we await the urgent conclusion of these processes,” the department said in a statement. 

Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, a pathology specialist for the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NIDC), said it was unclear why the website was not updating some of its information. 

She offered the following advice for people who have downloaded and are using the Covid Alert SA app: “It is essential that all persons who test positive for Covid-19 and who are using the Covid Alert SA app inform the app that they have tested positive. They need to do this by entering a six-digit pin. Every person who tests positive for Covid‑19 and whose details are on the national list will receive an SMS from [the department of health’s app] CovidConnect that contains the pin they need.”

The pin only lasts 14 days.

“If they miss this SMS, there is a way to retrieve the pin from the Covid Alert SA app and from the GovChat WhatsApp line. On the CovidAlert app, click the Forgot Your Unique PIN option and follow the links. If that option is not visible, please install the latest update. 

“On the GovChat WhatsApp line, send ‘ForgotPin’ to 0820468553 and follow the prompts,” said McCarthy.

Public health medicine specialist Dr Atiya Mosam said despite some outdated information, the site has proved consistent and informative.

“For SA data, the website is good as it gives the latest statistics. Other websites would be the NICD and the World Health Organisation. Additionally, the national and provincial departments of health’s pages on Facebook give information on the situation in each province,” said Mosam.

Mosam said as the number of cases mushroom, the country may have to revert to its strictest lockdown regulations.

South Africa enforced one of the world’s strictest lockdown regulations from March 2020 at level 5. 

“There is considerable worry that the festive season and internal migration for holiday or return to home provinces will allow for more movement of cases from one province to another and then back again.

“I think province-specific measures should be put into place to try to contain the spread, for example, regulations on the use of public beaches in coastal arrears. We may also need to introduce alcohol regulations again, as alcohol consumption does increase complacency and non-adherence to hygiene practices as well as trauma cases,” she said.

Mosam said this was most important in arrears where the pandemic has already stretched the healthcare system. 

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