All over bar the coughing: recovering Mkhize worries about SA ...


All over bar the coughing: recovering Mkhize worries about SA ‘resurgence’

The health minister says an increase in Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks is concerning

Night news editor
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and his wife, May, are recovering from Covid-19 at home.
SOLDIER Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and his wife, May, are recovering from Covid-19 at home.
Image: Supplied

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize is worried.

The 64-year-old is just days into his recovery from Covid-19, which he announced on Sunday he had contracted. He suffered various symptoms, he said, but was left with “only a cough”.

Adding to his worries is that his wife, Dr May Mkhize, also has the virus and was, until Wednesday, being treated in hospital. She has been discharged and will now be joining the minister in isolation at home.

But what’s got Mkhize particularly worried is neither his nor his wife’s sicknesses — on Wednesday, he went as far as describing himself as a “soldier” fighting a battle — but rather a Cape Town bar, the Western Cape in general and large parts of the country. And he’s worried because Covid-19 is making a “resurgence”.

Evidence showed, he said, that there are “small fires” burning. While there is no need to panic, these cannot be ignored.

“This morning, after reading and analysing our country’s epidemiological reports, as the minister of health, I cannot help but be concerned. Fellow South Africans, when we emphasise that the risk of a resurgence remains high, we do not do so to instil fear in you.

“As government, we have a responsibility to alert you when we see concerning trends. It would be irresponsible of us to ignore ‘small flames’ that we see redeveloping in some parts of the country,” he said.

Fellow South Africans, when we emphasise that the risk of a resurgence remains high, we do not do so to instill fear in you.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

As of Tuesday night — the last available stats at the time of writing — SA had recorded 706,304 cases of Covid-19 and 18,656 confirmed fatalities. Of these, 31,965 cases have been recorded in the 20 days since October 1, with 1,962 deaths in the same period. Based on the total number of tests in the period (393,439), this is a positivity rate of 8.12%, on average.

What concerns Mkhize is what has happened in the past two weeks.

“I wish to bring to the attention of all South Africans that our epidemiological reports are showing that in the country, over the past seven days, there has been an increase of 9.1% in new cases. Similarly, over the last 14 days, there has been an increase of 10.7%,” he said.

Of particular concern is the Western Cape, which was the early Covid-19 epicentre before Gauteng and, later, KwaZulu-Natal overtook in terms of confirmed cases.

“In the past seven days, there was a marked increase in the number of new cases in the Western Cape. The province recorded a 42% increase in new infections. According to our resurgence plan, we define this significant spike in new cases in the Western Cape as a resurgence,” he said.

Without being specific, Mkhize referenced a recent “super-spreader event in a bar” in Cape Town. He was referring to the dozens of matric pupils — mostly from private schools in the city’s southern suburbs — who were at a party at the Tin Roof venue, seemingly without masks and without practising social distancing protocols. While the club denied not following the regulations, the Western Cape government ordered an investigation. Mkhize, his ministry and department are awaiting feedback from the province.

“We have noted that the single biggest cluster outbreak has been identified to be in the southern subdistrict in the Cape metro and this has been associated with a super-spreader event in a bar.

“The Western Cape health department has identified specific clusters that are responsible for the increase in cases and has advised that each of these clusters has been investigated and a detailed outbreak response is being mounted. We await further reports from the WC health response teams who are now required to target the subdistricts with a high increase of new cases over the past two weeks,” said Mkhize.

While there is no need to panic, the minister said, now is not the time to let the country’s guard down.

“All of us must take this responsibility and always encourage those about us. We must also take heed of the major lessons from Covid-19. That is, despite the anxiety, the psychological trauma, the physical suffering and grief from lives we lost, Covid-19 has reawakened our deep values of ubuntu in us all.

“We have been reminded to care more, love more, empathise with our families, friends, colleagues and even those we hear about in the media,” he said.

On Monday, Mkhize released a podcast in which he addressed SA’s “possible future with Covid-19”. In it, he suggested a second wave is likely, but that there is much more hope than in the past.

“The issue of a second wave ... we cannot just rule out.

“Of course ... we may still be facing a second surge. How likely that is, is something that we can all speculate, because many of the countries that have overtaken South Africa [in terms of total infections] are on the second surge. It’s  possible that the second surge will still come, but [what it’s going to be like in SA] depends on how we deal with our containment measures.

“Chances are we will be like other countries. The countries in the West have all had it and it was very dramatic. We have no reason to think we will be spared from a second wave.

We’ll probably do much better than we’ve done in the past because everyone, really, has a sense of what this Covid-19 is all about. The level of fear and anxiety will be less. The level of knowledge and understanding of what works will be much higher,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mkhize on Wednesday also spoke of his and his wife’s recovery from the respiratory illness.

“I want to assure you that we are improving each day. I remain in quarantine at home. I am resting and recuperating with only a cough remaining from my previous symptoms,” he said.

“I’m also very pleased that my wife has been discharged from hospital today and will now be joining me for quarantine at home.

“In a war, when an injured soldier lies down to recover, injuries do not remove his mindset from the set goal to win the battle. He uses such an opportunity to reflect on the battle and also to think ahead for when he rejoins the army. Like a soldier, I find myself in that position as we continue to fight this battle against Covid-19 as a country.”