Mkhize swats away criticism as SA’s Covid-19 cases sky-rocket

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Mkhize swats away criticism as SA’s Covid-19 cases sky-rocket

The state has done a sterling job so far, he insists, as country records 101,000 infections and 2,000 deaths

Nonkululeko Njilo and Kgaugelo Masweneng
Prof Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs the government’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, says SA is still 'in a pretty good position' compared with other countries.
Positives Prof Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs the government’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, says SA is still 'in a pretty good position' compared with other countries.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has taken a swipe at critics who say the government was not doing enough to curb the spread of Covid-19 as SA recorded 100,000 positive cases.

The number of deaths related to the pandemic was 1,991 as of Monday.

Mkhize said on Tuesday that as many as 4,000 cases had been recorded over a 24-hour cycle since the outbreak in March. 

“A mere four months ago this pandemic was foreign. It was a concept that South African citizens really had no idea we would be even close to reaching 100,000 any time in our future, but now it is here and has come with many surprises and lessons,” he said on Tuesday.

Mkhize was speaking during the opening of the first phase of a field hospital built in the Eastern Cape with funds from the German government.

“Some have even publicly debated whether this increase in numbers means that there is a failure by government to effectively respond to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today I want to publicly and boldly dispel such notions,” he said. 

“It is my humble view that the South African government has thus far done their very vest to mount an effective response to Covid-19 in the containment programme, and in some instances did something that some of the more advanced countries may not have been able to do.”

Mkhize said the government did not have a “perfect” strategy to deal with the pandemic but maintained that it was ready to deal with a spike in infections.

As the epidemic looks right now, we are more or less where we anticipated we would be at this time of the epidemic.
Prof Salim Abdool Karim

“We have said that we will be ready to deal with a large number of the cases that will be coming through, and today is part of the demonstration of our effort in that direction,” he said.

The country has seen a spike of infections since the easing of the lockdown regulations which, he added, could not be in place “forever”. 

“We needed to strike a balance between saving lives and people’s livelihoods.”

Experts have warned that the country will see an increase in the number of cases, and Mkhize has expressed similar sentiments. 

He said he had previously warned about an impending difficult and devastating storm. 

“All indications are, as a country, we may be riding right into that storm whose devastating impact is expected to peak during the cold winter months. The rising numbers may be an indication that such a reality is now with us.”

SA passed the 100,000 mark for confirmed infections on Monday evening, less than three months since the first recorded death.

Prof Salim Abdool Karim, a leading clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist and government adviser, said this was “more or less” where experts predicted it would be in its fight against the pandemic.

SA recorded its first confirmed case on March 5, when a 38-year-old male who had travelled to Italy with his wife tested positive. Less than a month later, on March 27, two deaths were reported – the first fatalities from the respiratory illness.

“As the epidemic looks right now, we are more or less where we anticipated we would be at this time of the epidemic,” he said.

I don’t fully understand why it didn’t grow as fast in Gauteng, especially given that there is an international airport, and there are a lot of international travellers.
Prof Salim Abdool Karim

Abdool Karim said that when the government implemented lockdown regulations on March 26 they were able to slow the spread of the virus “substantially”, but this had changed as the country moved to lower levels.

“As we reached the tail end of the level 5 restrictions, we started seeing some small outbreaks in the supermarkets [and] grocery stores in the Western Cape,” he said.

“By the time we got into level 4 restrictions, the epidemic was already starting to grow in the broader Cape Town area. We began to see quite substantial increases at the tail end of level 4 restrictions and that has just continued to grow under level 3.”

Gauteng ‘better than expected’

Abdool Karim praised Gauteng, which was second with 22,341 cases and 122 deaths by Monday night, for doing well in flattening the curve and slowing the infection spread.

“When we were looking at projections in March, I would not have guessed that the epidemic would grow first in the Western Cape. All data we had suggested it would grow most in Gauteng, because of its density and large populations; we thought it would grow fastest there.

“I don’t fully understand why it didn’t grow as fast in Gauteng, especially given that there is an international airport, and there are a lot of international travellers. But it looks like some of the steps that were taken were quite effective in terms of reaching out, doing contact tracing, putting up quarantine sites.”

However, he warned that the province was not in the clear. “It has never eliminated the problem, and it’s never been contained. There have been ongoing transmissions.”

Abdool Karim said the worst was still to come for SA. “From an epidemiological basis, we can expect that we will have a few hundred thousand cases by the end of July, and that’s just based on the current doubling time that we would expect that sort of situation to occur.

“We all know the worst is yet to come. All we can do is continue our preparation and hope what we’ve done will be enough to mitigate what’s to come. This virus is here to stay for a little while – it’s not going anywhere.”