Stricter lock down possible as new Covid-19 strain upends hospital plans

Stricter lock down possible as new Covid-19 strain upends hospital plansHospitals struggling to cope. Image Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash.

The number of Covid-19 cases surged in South Africa on the eve of Christmas with officials now warning a tougher shutdown is on the cards.

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Government is scrambling to deal with a sudden surge in Covid-19 infections and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that current lockdown restrictions may have to be tightened.

That comes as South Africa recorded over 14 000 cases in one day on Wednesday 23 December with positively rates now topping 26%, bringing the total number of cases to close to 1 million.

The Health department also reported an additional 411 COVID-19 related deaths which brings the total to 25 657 people who had died from the pandemic so far.

 

Hospital Admissions show sudden surge on 23 December 2020
Gauteng hospital admissions. Graphic: Department of Health South Africa.

 

The Western Cape 171 deaths, Eastern Cape 101, Gauteng 34, Kwa-Zulu Natal 90, Mpumalanga and North West 6 each, and the Free State 3.

“This indicates that the virus continues to spread exponentially- indeed the rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days.

“We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread,” said the Minister.

All Provinces report increase – except Eastern Cape

All provinces, with the exception of the Eastern Cape, continue to report increases in their cases with KwaZulu-Natal at 30%, Western Cape at 28% and Gauteng province at 23% registering the largest increases and comprising 81% of the new cases.

“Therefore, it will be important for us to evaluate the situation in these provinces, identify hotspots in these areas and in other provinces where they may be identified and make recommendations based on these findings, and the outcomes of what has been implemented in the hotspots that have been identified so far,” said the Minister.

Mkhize urged citizens to take every precaution necessary as they celebrate the festive season and look for reprieve from a tough year.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is unrelenting and we therefore cannot afford to be complacent at this stage. We urge all South Africans to adhere to the regulations and recommendations pertaining to the National State of Disaster, avoid large gatherings and congested environments, ensure adequate ventilation in venues where they gather and vigilantly adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions,” he said.

Covid-19 numbers in South Africa show big jump on eve of Christmas 2020
Covid-19 Stats as of 23 December 2020

Post Office warns against Covid-19 profiteers 

At the same time, the South African Post Office (Sapo) has advised its customers not to pay self-appointed queue marshals a fee for a place in front of the queue when visiting their branches.

“Customers are advised not to pay the fee demanded by these queue marshals, and to report such incidents to the South African Police and to the Post Office branch in question,” the Post Office said on Wednesday.

These remarks come after Sapo become aware of instances where self-appointed queue marshals ask customers who visit their branches a fee for a place in the front of the queue.

This appears to be the case particularly where large numbers of beneficiaries visit Post Office branches to collect their R350 COVID-19 relief grant.

“It should be noted that the Post Office does not have jurisdiction over the behaviour of members of the public outside Post Office property.

“Anybody who becomes aware of postal crime in any form may report it to the Post Office’s toll-free hotline on 0800 020 070,” the Post Office said.

Customers of the Post Office are also requested to strictly observe the measures announced to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, such as the wearing of masks, sanitising and social distancing.

These measures are enforced on Post Office property.

“Recipients of the R350 Covid-19 relief fund can also choose to have their grant paid into a Postbank account. Speak to your local post office branch if you would like to arrange this,” the Post Office said.

Bongo in firing line as Beit Bridge chaos worsens

While government tries to deal with the surge, a major backup stretching more than twenty kilometers is now being reported at South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe with travellers stranded for more than five days.

They accuse both the Zimbabawean and South African government with failing to deliver services in the area. There are virtually no toilet or water facilies as temperatures rise to the mid-30s.

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Bongani Bongo called for urgent intervention.

Beit Bridge traffic at standstill. Image: SAnews.gov.za

“While we understand the need for stringent health checks necessitated by COVID-19, we are also cognisant of the strategic importance of the Beit Bridge crossing to trade in Africa. It is in this context that strategies should have been put in place to mitigate such an occurrence, especially in relation to reducing operating hours,” Advocate Bongo said.

Bongo emphasised that it is necessary at this juncture for the Department of Home Affairs, together with sister departments operating at ports of entry, to develop and implement emergency strategies that will alleviate the congestion at that border crossing.

Bongo said the congestion has also highlighted the urgent need to operationalise the Border Management Agency, which will improve the agility in dealing with such situations in the future.

He said the committee however, remains cognisant of the need to ensure efforts of slowing down the spread of COVID-19 are strengthened, “thus those intervention plans must incorporate COVID-19 mitigation strategies”.

“Central to the call for mitigating strategies, is the need to find a workable balance between ensuring reasonable ease of movement of people across the border, ease of movement of goods to enable trade, and ensuring that we achieve the goal of reducing transmission of the disease,” Bongo said.

He said that he is hopeful that the South African Government will move with speed to deal with the challenges faced at the border crossing.

  • Health-e News with SAnews.gov.za