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COVID-19 quick insight from 1 April 2020

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was pleased that the number of COVID-19 infections were lower than expected but warned that South Africa was far from out of the woods, as he rolled out 67 mobile testing units that head out across the country.

Gauteng healthcare workers screening Alexandra residents for coronavirus (COVID-19) on 31 March 2020 following the roll out of massive community screenings and testing programmes by the provincial executive council. Picture: Ahmed Kajee/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was pleased that the number of COVID-19 infections were lower than expected but warned that South Africa was from out of the woods, as he rolled out 67 mobile testing units that head out across the country.

DAY SIX OF LOCKDOWN

BY THE NUMBERS

• A very high profile death Wednesday – Professor Gita Ramjee – one of South Africa’s best medical research minds, very well known for her contribution to HIV research. She had travelled overseas and returned, asymptomatic, and then got very ill, very quickly. She died overnight.

• Total confirmed cases now stand at 1,380 – 27 cases up from Tuesday.

• Gauteng – 645; Western Cape - 326; KwaZulu-Natal – 186; Free State - 76; North West – 9; Northern Cape - 7; Eastern Cape - 15; Mpumalanga – 12; Limpopo - 14.

• 44,202 people have been tested – largely at private clinics.

• Just more than 60,00 have been performed in public health services.

LOTS OF CONTEXT TO THESE NUMBERS

• The number of tests conducted is way too low for the population level, and especially taking into account how many co-morbidities we have – like TB and HIV.

• The vast majority of the tests were done by private labs – only 6,000 were done by the public lab service.

• Now that the infections have reached communities, the rollout of mass testing becomes very important, to get a real view of what the progress of the disease is, and be able to better target interventions.

• Health Minister was very clear – while it’s pleasing to see that the actual numbers are lower than what had been modeled (the model predicted we’d be at between 4,000 and 6,000 positive cases by now); we are far, far from out of the woods.

• He said, “the small growth in numbers could be the calm before a devastating storm".

• Mkhize wants more vigilance – internal transmission has started – and COVID-19 could spread silently, as poorer patients with mild symptoms might not seek medical help immediately.

• Perversely, the lockdown could actually stop people accessing health services because of transport difficulties, and that could mask a great many cases.

• To date, we’ve only been testing patients with symptoms – the new phase is an offensive strategy – getting out to test hundreds of thousands of people, and refine the containment strategy.

WATCH: Mkhize launches COVID-19 mobile testing units

THE TESTING UNDERTAKING

• 67 mobile testing units will head out across South Africa – we got our first look inside the mobile testing units that’ll be cruising the roads of COVID19 hotspot areas in coming weeks they are basically rolling labs – fully kitted out to screen and test.

• Currently, we are able to process 5,000 tests in 24 hours, in the coming weeks, we’ll be able to process 30,000 per day.

• The next seven days is crucial – mobile units will start with cases and contacts, anyone symptomatic will be tested, and the units will move onto contacts and areas where the contacts have been.

• Various tests to be used – the swab test that’s currently being used; a new rapid result test (this has yet to be procured), and a retooled version of the tech we use to detect TB on a large scale.

• The retooling of the TB tech is actually really cool – we already have that capacity in the field, and when they finish validating the test for detecting COVID-19, they will form another arrow in our quiver.

WATCH: Chinese, Cuban doctors to assist COVID-19 in SA

THE TO-DO LIST - WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

• We need additional beds and treatment centres in every town.

• Need more quarantine beds.

• Need to earmark relevant health professionals to assist field operatives.

• Presidency will reach out to China and Cuba to ask for help with “reinforcements”.

• Release from hospitals, patients who could be treated on outpatient basis.

• Provinces will procure PPEs; beds and supplies so we have enough stock.

• Everyone needs to move faster – plan for the worst.

• Remain focussed and be brave – no need to panic, but we MUST stay vigilant.

EVER WONDER WHY ZWELI MKHIZE IS ALWAYS COUGHING AND CLEARING HIS THROAT?

• No, the Health Minister does not have COVID-19 – he disclosed Wednesday night that he’s been tested and he’s negative.

• But he’s clearly had a lot of questions about this, so he told a televised briefing he comes from an atopic family.

• That means, a family that’s prone to allergies and allergic reactions of all kinds – so the minute the temperature changes, or there’s something in the air, he reacts, hence the constant throat clearing and occasional cough.

• Now you know – from the horse’s mouth.

NEW TRANSPORT REGULATIONS

• Relaxations to the transport lockdown regulations, in response to the taxi industry’s threat to shut down services.

• That action would have left thousands of essential workers stranded, as the taxi industry makes up way more than half of the public transport capacity.

• A vehicle licenced to carry up to 4 passengers is limited to carrying 50% of their permissible passenger carrying capacity - that means a driver and two passengers.

• A minibus licensed to carry 10 passengers, is limited to carry a maximum of 7 passengers.

• A minibus licensed to carry 15 passengers, is limited to carry the maximum of 10 passengers .

• A midibus permitted to carry a maximum of 22 passengers, is limited to carry a maximum of 15 passengers.

• During the lockdown period, all minibus and Midibus taxi vehicles are permitted to load their maximum 100% passenger loading capacity as provided in the operating license on condition that all passengers are wearing masks.

• masks must be of the following categories: (a) Surgical masks; (b) N95 respiratory masks.

• All public transport operators must put measures in place to adhere to social distancing to curb the spread of the virus.

• Mbalula acknowledges Cabinet and Transport MECs raised reservations around this relaxation.

• The concern is for essential services workers, to be able to get to work.

• One of the most bizarre quotable quotes out of this briefing – the National Minister of Transport tells the crowd if the taxis stage a shutdown, they would have to get busses to transport essential services workers, and that would lead to the buses getting shot at.

• No taxis in the street after 9pm.

• Everything in the taxi must be sanitised.

• DG is working on operationalising the masks – trying to get enough for everybody.

• This is it. No more relaxations – a warning to the taxi industry.

WATCH: Commuters to wear masks in taxis with full capacity

GLOBALLY

• Deep concerns from the WHO’s head about “the rapid escalation and global spread” of COVID-19 – he's warning the confirmed infection count will surpass a million in the coming days, and the number of deaths will pass 50,000.

• US President Donald Trump has warned Americans the next two weeks are “very painful”.

• There’s now a field hospital in Central Park, and one planned for the site where the US Open is played every year.

• EU documents reveal how governments reported to Brussels that their health care systems were good to go in the face of COVID-19 and that they weren’t going to need more stocks of masks, testing kits and ventilators. Scarcely a month later, European nations were scrambling.

• Russia is sending the US medical equipment to help fight COVID-19 – after a conference call between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. It’s a major PR coup for Putin.

• Britain's Prince Charles is now listed as recovered from COVID-19. He’s praised healthcare workers and said it’s a strange and distressing time for the nation.