Academics and health experts are warning of a significant spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Gauteng due to the anticipated influx of holidaymakers heading back to the province at the end of the festive season.
There have been concerns raised from various quarters including labour unions about the impact of the surge in numbers on medical staff and hospital capacity. This has been compounded by the new COVID-19 variant.
Academics and health experts believe that in order to manage the rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases in Gauteng, it is going to be critical to target areas where the spread of the virus is growing fast.
Evidence shows there is a significant increase in COVID-19 hotspots, especially in the City of Johannesburg.
“One of the signs of a significant surge or sometimes people call it ‘wave’ is that you have first an increase in the number of hotspots. Hotspots are clusters of positive cases that are located in small areas and then as a result of social interaction they are growing fairly fast. So, a sign that we are in the middle or progressing towards a second surge is that fact that these past couple of weeks, we have experienced in the province a significant increase in hotspots in the province,” says Wits University’s Professor Bruce Mellado, who is also a member of the Gauteng Premier’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee.
Using new technology, Mellado says they were able to develop an online dashboard where policymakers, experts and members of the public can log on and view hotspots.
The dashboard provides information about where the hotspot is located, the number of cases, and the level of severity for each. This would enable the government to make resources available and to respond accordingly. It is hoped it will also help the public to manage their behaviour.
“This is also very important that the population be aware that in their area there is a developing hotspot. And that as we know from previous experience it helps a lot in suppressing and curbing these hotspots because when people realise that around them there’s a hotspot developing they become more careful and walk away from unnecessary social interactions.”
Influx of people
There is growing concern that the anticipated influx of people travelling back to Gauteng after the festive season, will see a significant spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases.
Gauteng government Spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, says they are doing everything possible to capacitate public healthcare facilities including addressing staff challenges.
“There’s been a sharp increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases. On a weekly basis now, we are recording more than 6-7 thousand new COVID-19 positive cases as compared to the previous weeks, where on average new weekly cases would have been around 1 000 and 1 500 cases. We continue to ensure that the public health system has sufficient capacity to deal with any increased need for people to receive care in hospitals.”
Availability of staff
Democratic Alliance Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health, Jack Bloom, says while there are enough beds available at public hospitals, the challenge remains the availability of staff.
“They have constructed an extra 2 000 beds at public hospitals. So how are we going to staff these beds is an important question. Do we have enough equipment?”
But nursing union Denosa says the staffing challenges are being dealt with.
“We’ve been assured by the department that if and when the numbers do increase there is personnel which is available to assist. And there are people who have been hired on contract specifically to deal with COVID-19 in terms of nursing,” says Denosa’s Bongani Mazibuko.
He says the only challenge with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), they have had so far has been receiving incorrect sizes.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela is concerned about people who continue to violate lockdown regulations. Two popular Soweto venues were closed over the weekend and large amounts of liquor confiscated after police found people packed into venues without wearing masks and not observing social distancing protocols.
In Naledi, also in Soweto, people were still gathered at a ” street party” after 1 am, past the 11 pm curfew. Such super-spreader events have been highlighted as contributing to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We will continue to intensify our operations throughout the duration of the festive season to ensure that people are safe and to enforce compliance with regulations. Police visibility will be intensified at the taxi ranks, bus terminals, national roads, and other port of entries,” says Gauteng police spokesperson, Kay Makhubele.
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