Compounding the KwaZulu-Natal floods disaster, there are now fears that the shelters housing thousands of victims could become Covid-19 super-spreaders.
Briefing the KZN Legislature’s portfolio committee on health on Tuesday, provincial health department head, Sandile Tshabalala, said the shelters pose a health risk in the face of the current upsurge in Covid-19 infections in the province.
“As a department we are concerned about people who are currently living in the shelters,” he said.
The floods, which first hit the province last month, struck for a second time over the weekend.
With more than 6 000 people left homeless after their houses were destroyed by the floods, the provincial government has been forced to set up temporary accommodation sites ranging from halls to classrooms to accommodate the victims.
The floods coincided with the fifth Covid-19 wave propelled by the Omicron virus.
Tshabalala told members of the committee that infections in the province have risen to 1 000 a day in recent weeks.
“One of the things we have picked up with the current wave is that most of those who are getting infected are not vaccinated,” he said.
Even though the current wave of infections was proving to be less deadly compared to the previous ones, Tshabalala said close to 700 people have been admitted to hospital after catching the Omicron virus.
“Again, most of those who have been admitted are those who have not been vaccinated,” he said.
The health concerns around the shelters come amid calls by government for flood victims living in unsafe areas such as riverbanks and low-lying areas not to return to their homes.
DA member of the provincial legislature portfolio committee on health, Rishigen Viranna, called on the provincial health department to dispatch health teams to the temporary shelters.
“We already know that the conditions in most of these shelters are such that it is impossible to enforce Covid-19 protocols such as social distancing and the wearing of masks. It’s therefore critical to ensure that those currently living in temporary shelters are vaccinated,” he said.
Early last year the provincial health department set a target to vaccinate 70% of the province’s population by December last year.
However, Tshabalala said the target had not been achieved as only 42,8% of the province’s population has so far vaccinated.
At 51% the uMgungundlovu District which incorporates Pietermaritzburg has the highest number of vaccinated people in the province, while at 37% the Amajuba and King Cetshwayo districts have the lowest number of vaccinated people.
Tshabalala attributed the low vaccination rate to myths, including claims that Covid-19 vaccines affect people’s sexual health.
“However, through campaigns such as the Phuthuma Week and the Peer-to-Peer support, we continue to encourage people to vaccinate,” he said.