Mkhize: The data shows SA’s lockdown is working, but there is much work ahead

The minister has said that the decision to extend the lockdown was the right one to slow the spread of the virus.

Briefing the media about the response to the Covid-19 pandemic on Friday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize went into great detail on how the country’s lockdown has been working to fight the spread of Covid-19, and he expressed cautious optimism that South Africa might not follow the same devastating path that countries in “the West” have suffered.

“The unity that has been shown during this time has begun to show green shoots. It is possible that we may be able to buck the trend and chart our own path.”

He firstly went into the latest infection stats and revealed that about 70,000 tests had been conducted by midnight and the total number of infections recorded was at 2,003. There were 24 deaths “at this point”.

“Our health workers are fighting in a heroic way and the number of recoveries is 410 people.”

The minister conveyed his condolences to the families of the deceased.

The minister then went into a presentation that showed how South Africa’s infection rate has been drastically slowed, especially in comparison with what has been witnessed in other countries. He said this could suggest the country’s lockdown measures have been bearing fruit.

“If you look at the numbers, we all [all countries] start with the same numbers (an increase of 42%). With the lockdown we have stopped the importation if the virus. We have aborted the immediate peak and are no longer following the rest of the countries (as you can see in the turn of our line).”

His office tweeted photographs of the graphs on his Twitter account. He said it was important to take South Africans into his confidence and share this information so that people could understand that when President Cyril Ramaphosa had asked the country to observe the lockdown and endure another two weeks of it, it was for good reason.

“We still need South Africans’ cooperation. We have now parted ways with the countries that have a rapid spread.”

He said it would take hard work to follow the results of those countries that had been able to turn the tide and slow the virus down, however.

“We have now parted ways with the countries with rapid spread. For South Africans let’s be ambitious and say together we want to part ways with the trends of the West and Europe. I’m not saying we are there, but let’s try as South Africans to unite and follow the leadership.”

He offered the example of South Korea’s success, as well as other countries who had managed to provide hope.

“One person can change the trend of infection. Internal transmission is slowed due to the lockdown, but when we open those pockets that’s when the problem will come, so we will anticipate a few more peaks in South Africa,” he said, as he advised the country that there would still be a lot of hard work ahead to beat the outbreak within the country’s borders.

“We are checking hospital admissions. There has been no explosion. The numbers of deaths do not show a huge explosion.”

Mkhize said they had contact-traced thousands of people already and this remained an important weapon in combating the spread of the disease.

“A large number of tracers are involved. There are 13,488 tracers and we want that number to continue to increase.”

“We want to call on everyone to cooperate with the screening processes. Contact tracing, screening and test-referring will be our strongest weapons going forward.”

He said that the “new culture” of social distancing was something that would have to remain in place for months ahead.

“We must have a new culture of social distancing and no hugs, kissing or shaking of hands.

“The next issue is the use of masks.”

Mkhize said that if masks were used in conjunction with people keeping their distance, washing their hands, and not touching their faces or each other, they would prove effective in slowing the spread, especially in limiting someone who already had Covid-19 from passing it on.

He spoke in favour of cloth masks with three layers and called on people to learn to make their own masks if they could not find or buy sophisticated masks like the N95 surgical ones, which have been in short supply all over the world.

“We recommend widespread use of cloth masks. Individuals can make their own masks. There shouldn’t be a need for everyone to be wearing surgical/N95 masks. Let’s reserve those for the frontline workers treating patients.

“With a mask we can protect the next person. Don’t keep touching the mask. Don’t keep removing the mask and treat the mask as potentially infective. Ensure regular washing of the mask. We will make the guidelines available.”

The minister revealed he had had been part of successful initiatives with the business fraternity.

“I am able now on a dashboard to see the level of stock. We can check the country’s readiness on PPEs, and we can order stock from other countries.”

He thanked the private sector for its contributions.

As for the concerns of the unions representing medical staff, Mkhize said government had met with a large number of unions.

“We were able to agree on the issue that protection of staff is the most important. No member of staff will be forced to go to work without the respective gear that they would need in their designated position. Not everyone will need the full gear of PPEs. There are guidelines in place, and these will be followed.”

His meetings earlier with the private sector had included national group leaders, he had earlier revealed.

“The way we are responding to the pandemic is that the public and private sector must work as one team. The relationship between the public and private health sectors is important. We need to pool together on the basis of need.”

He said that talk of nationalising private health care was not necessary, but it was important to note that government had a particular responsibility to manage particular resources, and private facilities had been cooperating satisfactorily.

Mkhize said government would determine the price that it needed to pay for the relevant products and services.

“It needs to be understood that government has an obligation for the whole nation.”

However, he was happy so far: “There is clear cooperation with the private hospitals and private labs. We are operating as one system, both public and private sectors.”

He discussed the major outbreak that had occurred at the Netcare private hospital in Durban, St Augustine’s, which had been closed.

“There are no new outpatients. The fumigation process has started. The hospital needs to contain the patients within and monitor the patients under investigation.”

He said there was no issue of compliance at the hospital.

“As of two days ago 66 people tested positive, and of that 48 were staff.

“Our meeting with private hospitals has been very fruitful and there is a clear understanding. We will be met with cooperation going forward and we will handle this together.”

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