As virus cases surge, South Africa’s commercial hub adds beds
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s Gauteng province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, will add more than 2,000 hospital beds this month and is considering localized lockdowns and curbs on alcohol as the number of coronavirus cases surge.
The country’s most populous province and commercial hub has recorded about 3,000 new infections a day in the past two weeks, the highest number nationwide, and both hospitalizations and the mortality rate have increased “dramatically,” David Makhura, the province’s premier, said at a briefing Thursday. Currently 144 patients require ventilators in the region, up from just four a month ago.
“The month of July is going to be a very difficult month,” Makhura said. “We are doing everything we can to speed up the addition of beds. The system is feeling the stress.”
South Africa last month eased a strict nationwide lockdown, allowing some people to return to work and schools to partially reopen while also lifting a ban on alcohol sales. That’s fueled a surge in new infections that arrived earlier than initially forecast and has shifted the epicenter of the pandemic away from the Western Cape province. With almost 160,000 confirmed cases nationwide, the country has the most on the continent. Gauteng accounts for 29% of those.
Regional hospitals are now almost full to capacity, with the lifting of the alcohol ban adding pressure as the number of drinking-related trauma cases has soared, Steve Moeng, director of trauma surgery at Charlotte Maxeke hospital, said during the briefing.
“We must face the reality that Covid is here,” Moeng said. “We can’t afford multiple pandemics at the same time.”
The provincial government will discuss imposing localized lockdowns this weekend for places where “crowding” has become a problem, and new alcohol regulations will also be considered, according to Makhura. Areas that are linked to mining activity, such as Randfontein and Soweto, are seeing an especially rapid rise in new infections, he said.
“The situation is not normal,” Makhura said. “We can’t proceed as if the situation is normal.”