BATTLING A DARK FORCE
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.