File Image: IOL
File Image: IOL

Gauteng reels under third wave of Covid-19 infections

By Manyane Manyane, Roland Mpofu Time of article published Jun 20, 2021

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Johannesburg - Gauteng is reeling under the grip of the third wave with a surge in the number of Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations at both private and public health facilities in and around Joburg.

On Thursday, the number of Covid19 patients in Gauteng health facilities stood at 4 700 with 1 380 admitted to the intensive care units (ICU) and a further 3 432 being treated in general wards.

Of these patients, 1 291 were treated in public hospitals while 3 449 were in private clinics.

Yesterday, South Africa recorded 13 575 new Covid-19 cases bringing active

cases to 110 725 while 149 Covid-related deaths have been reported, bringing the total number of fatalities to 58 590.

Gauteng has the biggest number of active cases at 67 769, the highest number countrywide and 12 079 fatalities after Cape Town with 13 508.

Some hospitals in and around Joburg are now under pressure as the number of Covid-19 infections coupled with trauma cases continues to increase over the weekend.

There have been calls for stricter lockdown regulations including an outright ban on alcohol, but the Gauteng government indicated that it would oppose such actions because this could be detrimental to the economy of the province.

A snap survey in four hospitals in and around Joburg showed throngs of patients covered in heavy blankets on oxygen and in wheelchairs, while others were receiving oxygen while lying on stretchers.

Judging from the pictures, it seems the hospitals are running out of beds and are treating people where they sit, although no patients were being treated in car parks.

Nurses at Helen Joseph and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (Bara), who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned, however, that if the cases continued increasing, within the next few days, there would be no space left to keep the patients as the bed occupation was almost reaching its full capacity.

A nurse at the casualty unit at Helen Joseph said for the past two days the number of patients who arrive with Covid-19 related conditions has almost doubled on a daily basis.

She pointed at the number of people who were in the queue, some on oxygen cylinders draped in heavy blankets.

“The situation is getting worse here. I don't think we are going to cope if this situation continues in the next coming days.”

At Chris Baragwanath, a nursing sister working in the casualty ward said the pressure was mounting because of the rising number of Covid-19 infections and she wants the government to ban the sale of alcohol completely as it was also causing increasing trauma cases.

“You see people who come here with stab wounds and gunshots are the ones who are causing pressure on our facility and we will soon run out of bed capacity like the first wave.

“To be honest with you, this is the worst wave to have hit us, so the government needs to do more to protect us,” she said.

Outside both of these hospitals, the tents in the parking lots were still empty but the sister at Chris Hani Baragwanath warned that if people’s behaviour doesn’t change, in no time, the tents might be filled to capacity with beds for Covid-19 patients.

When asked about the state of the hospitals in the province, Gauteng Health spokesperson Kwara Kekana referred us to the weekly update by the Provincial Command Council which only showed the increased numbers of admissions.

The situation has prompted Gauteng public hospitals to temporarily suspend visitors in all health facilities in a bid to stop the spread of infections among patients.

One of the biggest health facilities in Gauteng, Chris Hani Baragwanath, put out a notice warning that the hospital was experiencing the third surge of Covid-19 pandemic “and the number of new cases are increasing daily exponentially. This has put our health care facilities under extreme pressure.

“As part of reducing the risk to our patients contracting the virus, visiting time to all Gauteng Department of Health facilities has been temporarily suspended until further notice.”

Only in exceptional cases will one visitor be allowed and that visitor cannot spend more than 15 minutes with a patient.

SA was moved to lockdown level 3 on Tuesday amid a rapid increase of Covi-19 cases. During his speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Gauteng continues to top the third wave and accounts for nearly two-thirds of new infections recorded over the past week.

He said the increase in infections in Gauteng was now faster and steeper than it was at the same time in the previous wave.

“Within a matter of days, it is likely that the number of new cases in Gauteng will surpass the peak of the second wave,” said Ramaphosa who added that private hospitals have reported that they were near capacity.

On Thursday, while presenting his R53,4 billion budget speech at the provincial legislature, Gauteng Department of Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the third wave was causing immeasurable panic and misery in schools.

“To date, we have closed 20 schools due to reported Covid cases. This year alone 1 077 educators tested positive. The number of learners who tested positive was almost double that (1 977),” said Lesufi.

In the past weeks Lesufi was in the forefront in calling for the schools to open to full capacity but due to the increase in infections in this third wave he seems to have toned down his call saying: “We are monitoring the situation and await guidance and advice from our health experts. We remain open minded in taking whatever action that will assist to minimise the infections in our schools.”

While the hospitals remain under pressure it was expected the Minister of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Angie Motshekga would close the schools during her announcement yesterday.

However, Motshekga said her department and the Health Department have made a plan for a vaccination programme for teachers.

“The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) held a special meeting this morning to consider a report from the Department of Health on the latest developments regarding the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. A plan for the vaccination programme was presented to CEM and we are pleased with the progress made especially for the basic education sector.

“As a sector, we made a request weeks ago for teachers and support staff in basic education to be vaccinated as a matter of urgency,” she said.

She said the vaccination programme would start on Wednesday and it would continue until July 8.

“Those to be vaccinated are educators, administrative and support staff, irrespective of their age. The school governing body appointed teachers, and those teachers employed by independent schools registered in terms of the SA Schools’ Act.”

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