Head of department Dr Sandile Tshabalala told The Mercury in a phone interview that they were very concerned about the growing number of infections. Photo: Siphiwe Moyo/KZN Department of Health
Head of department Dr Sandile Tshabalala told The Mercury in a phone interview that they were very concerned about the growing number of infections. Photo: Siphiwe Moyo/KZN Department of Health

KZN Health optimistic it will cope with rise in infections as Covid-19 third wave looms

By Thami Magubane Time of article published May 24, 2021

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DURBAN - THE KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health believes all measures have been put in place to prevent the province from being overwhelmed by the third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Head of department Dr Sandile Tshabalala told The Mercury they were very concerned about the growing number of infections.

“We are preparing like we are in the worst-case scenario, but we do not believe we are going to reach those numbers, or be overwhelmed,” he said.

Health experts have warned the country needs to intensify its vaccination campaign to avoid the third wave of infections, saying it could be more devastating than the previous waves.

The national Health Department revealed at the weekend the country had recorded its highest rate of infections, at 4 000 cases – with about 53 Covid-19-related deaths on Saturday.

The government has come under fire from experts and opposition parties for its slow vaccination of health-care workers through the Sisonke vaccination programme. Last week, the government started its second phase of vaccination, mainly targeting vulnerable individuals over the age of 60 years.

“While we have enough beds, we are still concerned with the impact the growing numbers might have. We are definitely worried about the third wave,” said Tshabalala.

He added Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane, Premier Sihle Zikalala, other MECs and local government had assumed the responsibility of communicating to the public how to fight the disease, which had helped contain it.

“They did not let this be a matter only for the Health Department, and we must thank them for this,” he said.

Tshabalala said the department projected that it would finish vaccinating health-care workers by the end of this month. Fewer than 30 000 workers still need to be vaccinated.

“When vaccination started, we had a target to vaccinate about 163 000 healthcare workers, and 69 000 were remaining and, by Friday, we had vaccinated about 19 000 of these. We continued to work over the weekend, so the numbers that remain are much lower,” said Tshabalala.

In the second phase of vaccination, he said, they had vaccinated about 81 000 people, including pensioners and health-care workers.

There were 965 000 people 60 years old and above in the queue, and the department planned to have vaccinated 2.9 million people by the end of the second phase, in September or October.

While health experts agreed that parts of the country had entered the third wave, they held different views on its impact. Professor Thumbi Ndung’u from UKZN said the country needed to impose stringent Covid-19 protocols of wearing masks and social distancing, saying if these were implemented then tangible results would be achieved.

Professor Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist from University of the Witwatersrand, said it was predictable there would be a resurgence of the virus heading into winter.

He said the North West, Free State, Northern Cape, and Gauteng were already experiencing the third wave.

“It is difficult to predict what the magnitude of this resurgence would be. I suspect it would be less severe than what we experienced in the last two waves, unless the virus undergoes further mutations,” said Madhi.

He said while it was good the country had started with vaccinations, it was too late for them to affect this wave.

He recommended the government should prohibit indoor gatherings and fast-track the vaccination of vulnerable groups.

THE MERCURY

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