West Coast district could become the next Covid-19 hotspot

By Nathan Adams, Nathan Craig, Keshia Africa Time of article published Jun 6, 2021

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Western Cape health authorities are concerned that the West Coast District could become the next Covid-19 hotspot.

Health authorities have ramped up surveillance in West Coast towns and the Matzikama, Cederberg, Bergrivier, Saldanha Bay and Swartland municipalities.

Head of Western Cape Department of Health Dr Keith Cloete said there was a simple reason why this part of the province could soon become a hotspot. “There is an increase in cases everywhere in the province ... On the West Coast, our concern is a connection via the N7 of people travelling to and from the Northern Cape into the West Coast. We are on alert in the West Coast because we are looking for an increase in cases that could be connected to inter-provincial travel over the border from the Northern Cape.”

Cloete also said there had been an increase in infections in a cluster of old-age homes in the Bergrivier and they were worried that gatherings at funerals and Covid-19 protocols were not being adhered in Matzikama.

The Matzikama Municipality is the provincial subdistrict with the most active Covid-19 cases (outside of Cape Town), recording 196 cases per 100 000 people.

Cloete said: “We have vaccination sites and we are just watching to see the increase in cases because of that connection with the Northern Cape ... it's on surveillance.”

There are three vaccination sites in the West Coast District: Citrusdal Hospital, Vredendal Hospital and the Swartland Hospital. Provincial government plans to open and manage 53 vaccination sites in the district. The Northern Cape has 8808 Covid-19 cases which is almost double the number of cases in the Western Cape.

Mossel Bay on the Garden Route is a close second behind Matzikama municipality with 156 active cases per 100 000 people as of yesterday.

Spokesperson for the Western Cape Health Department in the Central Karoo and Garden Route, Nadia Ferreira, confirmed they had potential hotspots.

“We currently have 19 active cases in the Central Karoo district and 436 in the Garden Route. The Garden Route is showing an increase in Covid-19 cases on a week-to-week basis. Our teams continue to monitor the situation and are on high alert to identify any clusters and follow-up all active cases,” said Ferreira.

Cloete also confirmed that quite a few schools in the Garden Route area have had outbreaks including at a hostel in Riversdale.

By the end of last week, there were seven vaccination sites operation on the Garden Route: the Alan Blyth Hospital in Ladismith, Harry Comay TB Hospital in George, KwaNokuthula CDC in Plettenberg Bay, the Plettenberg Bay Clinic, Oudtshoorn Hospital, Heidelberg Clinic and the Knysna Hospital. Provincial Health authorities plan to open 41 sites in the Garden Route District in the near future.

In total, there were 1708 active Covid-19 cases in municipalities outside of Cape Town. Cloete confirmed: “There is a 26 percent increase, week on week in the rural figures.”

Premier Alan Winde said: “In the Western Cape, we are in a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.”

He added: “We might not be at the third wave as yet but I notice a steady increase in active cases ... and I see that we at over 882 citizens in our hospitals with Covid-19 at the moment.”

Winde warned that a pattern has developed over the months of case increases due to people coming together over weekends.

Meanwhile, a South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) board member claimed that a discrepancy exited in the vaccine applications process.

“Certain companies who don’t have political connections or muscles would have their vaccine applications pushed back while those who have professors and researchers linked to certain organisations would have their applications done within weeks.”

The board member said so far Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines have been approved in South Africa while others like Sputnik and Sinovac are still facing scrutiny.

“We all know which vaccine was approved for a so-called rollout while in fact it was in the process of some of its trials and we all know who are connected to the same vaccine, health-wise and political.

“The approval for vaccines in South Africa has become a political game instead of a fight against the pandemic. There are so many interested parties and so many of the professors involved are conflicted. Politics is beginning to show its ugly head within SAHPRA.”

The board member refused to name the companies who are political connected or professors who are conflicted.

SAHPRA did not respond to queries on this by the time of going to print.

This week, WHO updated its approved Emergency Use Listing of Covid-19 vaccines to include AstraZeneca/Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinopharm and Sinovac.

The WHO’s listing was a prerequisite for the worldwide vaccine equitable access initiative, Covax, that allows for international procurement and for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer Covid-19 vaccines.

The WHO’s Regional Office for Africa said: “With regards to the Sputnik vaccine, inspections of the manufacturing facilities are still ongoing and WHO's Technical Advisory Group will assess suitability for Emergency Use Listing after the inspections are completed. The decision is expected in June.”

They recommended that countries use vaccines that have undergone approval by their emergency listing.

SAHPRA are still reviewing the effectiveness and efficacy of the Sinovac and Russian Sputnik V vaccines.

Sinovac sustained its vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries, including neighbouring Botswana and Chile. And it is reported that more than 600 million doses have been delivered around the world.

WHO approved the first Chinese-made vaccine, Sinopharm, about a month ago. The vaccine made by state-owned firm Sinopharm, reportedly shows an efficacy of 79% against Covid-19.

Russian-made vaccine, Sputnik V, applied to Sahpra in February and by yesterday its application was “still being processed”. Sputnik has been approved in 67 countries around the world including Algeria, Ghana and Egypt in Africa where a Sputnik would be locally produced in Cairo.

Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, SAHPRA's chief executive, said they received documentation to begin assessing Sputnik V on February 24 and Sinovac on March 10.

No applications had yet been received to initiate the evaluation process for the Sinopharm vaccine - which was currently being used in neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe.

Sibongiseni Dhlomo, chairperson of the Parliamentary Health Portfolio Committee, said following conversations with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, advanced negotiations were underway to source Sinopharm and Sputnik doses.

Yesterday, during a TB and Covid 2021 virtual conference, University of Witswaterand Vaccinology Professor Shabir Mahdi said the Pfizer vaccine is the most reliable vaccine that successfully neutralises antibody responses to the B.1.351 variant, which is responsible for more than 90% of South African Covid-19 cases.

Madhi shared that although the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have a 50% to 70% efficacy rate, no efficacy data was available in fighting the B.1.351 variant.

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