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WC health officials brace for surge in COVID-19 infections in coming weeks

Ever since the Western Cape became the epicentre of the disease five weeks ago, it's numbers have been climbing steeply.

FILE.  A healthcare worker preparing to do COVID-19 tests. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Western Cape health officials are bracing for a surge in COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.

The province accounts for more than 60% of the country's total infections and the majority of fatalities.

So, why is the Cape seeing such a marked increase in infections and deaths?

Ever since the Western Cape became the epicentre of the disease five weeks ago, it's numbers have been climbing steeply.

When asked at the time, health authorities said the rapid increase was due to a very targeted screening and testing campaign, which was actively exposing clusters that would have been there anyway.

Whilst other provinces showed fairly stable upward growth, the Western Cape pulled away rapidly.

They stand by this explanation, but as the weeks have worn on, they've realised that community transmission was probably already at play more than six weeks ago driving the high infection rate.

They traced several clusters to essential services personnel.

There's also the matter of the very high death rate, the vast majority of deaths as a result COVID-19 have been recorded here.

But provincial head of health Keith Cloete said the number of deaths were tied to where the province was in the progression of the disease.

“Our case fatality rate, which is a very crude measure, was still in in the same range as other provinces. So, their deaths to total cases and our deaths to total cases were more or less comparable. It’s is just that we're earlier and when their cases increase, their deaths will increase.”

Of those who died, 96% had underlying health conditions like HIV, Diabetes, Hypertension, Tuberculosis or lung disease.

Cloete said they'll now be focussing more heavily on over 55 years of age and those with comorbidities.

“The proposal for the strategic alignment in the Cape Metro is, we streamline our testing and out contact tracing activities to focus on high-risk groups such as health workers and vulnerable people...testing for health workers...tracing and screening for vulnerable people.”

Officials are expecting a surge in infections in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, The Health Department has again defended the national lockdown saying it's done what it set out to do moving out the peak of the pandemic and buying time to prepare for the onslaught.

The department on Wednesday briefed Parliament on its strategic plan and annual performance.

The department also updated MPs on how it plans to deal with COVID-19.

The department was before the portfolio committee to talk through its five-year strategic plan and finances but almost all the MPs questions focussed on COVID-19.

Health committee member Pumza Dyantyi questioned the department about the impact of COVID-19 and how its plans will be affected as a result.

“I want to ask a prevalent question that’s is directed at the department, what is the impact of COVID-19 on the programmes of the department.”

The meeting came as much of the country prepares to move to level three of the lockdown.

That will mean an easing of a number of restrictive regulations.

The lockdown has been maligned in some sectors, but the department’s Dr Yogan Pillay said it had served its intended purpose.

“The first lockdown was very necessary. The lockdown has done two things; it has helped us by decreasing the peak of infections by about 2 million and move the peak of infections by about 6 weeks.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa also defended the lockdown when he addressed the nation last week and signalled that large parts of the country will move to level three by the end of the month.

BY THE NUMBERS
- The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 18,003

  • The Western Cape accounts for 62,6 % of those, followed by Gauteng with 13,3%

  • There are 27 more deaths – bringing the total to 339

  • Sadly the first neonatal death has been recorded – a two-day old baby

  • It’s important to note that the baby was born prematurely and therefore had lung difficulties which required ventilation support immediately after birth

  • The mother tested positive for Covid-19 and subsequently the baby tested positive

  • A Western Cape health care worker has also died from the virus

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