While in­fec­tions rocket to 19 000 and deaths hit 369, health min­is­ter con­cedes much is still un­known about virus


WITH South Africa’s Covid-19-pos­i­tive in­fec­tions hit­ting more than 19 000 and a recorded 369 coro­n­avirus-re­lated deaths, Health Min­is­ter Dr Zweli Mkhize yes­ter­day said much was still un­known about the virus.

How­ever, he said his de­part­ment would de­pend on sev­eral mod­els to mon­i­tor South Africa’s Covid-19 out­break.

One of the mod­els, led by the Mod­el­ling and Sim­u­la­tion Hub, Africa, from the UCT, on Tues­day pro­jected that the coun­try could have a mil­lion Covid-19 in­fec­tions and up­wards of 40 000 deaths by Novem­ber.

Yes­ter­day, in a brief­ing held by the De­part­ment of Health, Covid-19 mod­ellers added more grim news for the coun­try as they pro­jected that it faced the risk of run­ning out of in­ten­sive care unit beds as early as next month.

The mod­ellers said the West­ern Cape, in par­tic­u­lar, which led the coun­try with 12 153 pos­i­tive cases and 235 deaths, faced the big­gest risk of run­ning out of ICU beds.

Mkhize said there had been no Covid-19 model that had been able to pre­dict what had hap­pened in the West­ern Cape up­front.

“The one model that I saw pre­dicted that it was go­ing to be Gaut­eng that was go­ing to be ex­plod­ing first and then fol­lowed by KZN,” Mkhize said.

The pre­sen­ta­tion by the or­gan­i­sa­tion on Tues­day showed that the coun­try had only 4 000 ICU beds avail­able, with the lat­est pro­jec­tions now in­di­cat­ing South Africa could run out of such beds as early as next month.

Yes­ter­day, Mkhize told South Africans that they must ap­pre­ci­ate that the virus had been an un­fold­ing pan­demic and that ev­ery­one had been learn­ing over the past few months what it meant for the coun­try.

He said the whole world was strug­gling with the same pan­demic and no­body had all the an­swers.

“But there are many lessons to learn that can guide our re­sponse as South Africans.”

Dr Ker­ri­gan McCarthy, a mem­ber of the Covid-19 min­is­te­rial ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee and a se­nior pathol­o­gist at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­ble Dis­eases said the sit­u­a­tion that the coun­try was fac­ing was not unique as there was no global ma­trix or blue­print on how to han­dle the pan­demic.

“The ex­perts that are ad­vis­ing the min­is­ter are a group of med­i­cally trained sci­en­tists who have long his­to­ries in ser­vice de­liv­ery in terms of pub­lic sec­tor health-care pro­vi­sion and health ac­tivism.

“We are able to give a re­sponse to the Covid-19 pan­demic as a fruit of our years of ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing in health.

“But where we are not ex­perts is the im­pact of health poli­cies on other sec­tors of the econ­omy, ed­u­ca­tion, on peo­ple’s psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing and all of these fac­tors need to be taken into ac­count when one cal­cu­lates a risk-ben­e­fit as­sess­ment and de­cides on what poli­cies to take and what ac­tions and re­sponses to take,” McCarthy said.

She added that coun­tries across the world were grap­pling with sim­i­lar ques­tions, such as to what de­gree should they in­fringe on hu­man lib­erty to bring about a good end.

“There isn’t a right an­swer, there is no nice for­mula that says if you do this you will de­crease deaths or if you don’t do this deaths are go­ing to rise and we’re try­ing to fig­ure it out as a so­ci­ety and as health ex­perts and of course we’re all go­ing to have dif­fer­ent opin­ions,” McCarthy added.

On Tues­day evening, Mkhize took a swipe at Pro­fes­sor Glenda Gray, chair­per­son of the re­search sub-com­mit­tee team of 50 ex­pert Covid-19 pan­demic ad­vis­ers to the govern­ment, who re­cently crit­i­cised some of the reg­u­la­tions of the na­tion­wide lock­down, say­ing they had not been grounded in sci­ence with one im­pact of the lock­down reg­u­la­tions be­ing a flare-up in mal­nu­tri­tion among chil­dren.

How­ever, Mkhize said Gray’s com­ments were “at the least de­void of the truth”.

“It can never be Prof Gray’s place to make such com­ments with­out be­ing aware of the de­tails, the ad­vice and the process the De­part­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion has fol­lowed,” Mkhize said.

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