As daily cases of Covid-19 in South Africa inch toward the 20 000 mark, surpassing levels seen during the first wave of the pandemic, Steve Biko hospital in Pretoria is so full that staff are treating some patients in beds wheeled out into the parking lot.
Hospitals in coronavirus hotspots across the country are full to capacity and face a shortage of beds, dwindling supplies of oxygen, and a lack of intensive care units.
Images showed patients receiving oxygen on the tarmac outside the entrance to the emergency department, while other hospital staff were spraying down beds with sanitizer to prep for more patients.
The hospital has erected large tents where some patients receive emergency treatment before being moved to designated wards.
Most infection cases in Africa
As of Sunday night, South Africa had recorded more than 1.2 million infections, the most in Africa, and over 33 000 deaths.
Infections surpassed 21 000 a day last week, a new peak, propelled by a new virus variant called 501Y.V2 that is believed to be more contagious.
Steve Biko’s chief executive, Mathabo Mathebula, told the SABC that “treating patients outside was unavoidable” because of a sudden surge in patients.
“Covid-19 patients, even one that looks stable as he steps in the door, the condition can change any time. … Our capacity in terms of inside, it was overflowing.”
‘Who to save?’
The Gauteng Health Department on Sunday responded to reports on social media that Steve Biko was “overwhelmed.”
National health ministry Deputy Director-General Anban Pillay told Reuters all provinces had expanded their bed capacity in preparation for rising Covid-19 infections.
“The problem is congestion in certain facilities like Steve Biko. Gauteng is bringing on more beds at the Nasrec field hospital in Johannesburg and Jubilee hospital north of Pretoria.”
Nurses told Reuters that wards at other hospitals in Gauteng, which includes the biggest city of Johannesburg, were also full.
“It’s a very painful situation because for you to get a bed, someone must die,” Rich Sicina, a nurse at Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital, said, adding that his hospital was also treating Covid-19 patients in tents.