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Expect more cluster outbreaks under Level 4 - Zweli Mkhize

Health minister Zweli Mkhize briefed committees in parliament on what health officials were expecting when the lockdown level is decreased to Level 4 at the end of this week.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize briefed committees in parliament on what health officials were expecting when the lockdown level is decreased to Level 4 at the end of this week.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali/Sowetan

The Western Cape's Covid-19 cluster outbreaks indicate what may happen when more sectors open up for business under level 4 lockdown regulations, starting next month.

“I think the example of the Western Cape is what's going to happen. We must expect that there would be areas where we will say we can proceed with bringing up normal economic activities and open up various industries and transport routes and so on, but there will be areas where we might have to stop that and say we thought this was safe, it's no longer safe, let's go back,” health minister Zweli Mkhize told a meeting of parliament's oversight committees.

“It's not going to ever be a straightforward issue. If in one instance we would have understood that the rate of transmission is still very high, we would actually reduce the numbers of industries that must be started and be put in operation immediately,” he said on Monday.

“On the other hand, where we think things are getting well and the transmission rate is low, and the economic activities can be resumed, we will move into that, but as soon as we start picking [up that] the numbers are going up, we are forced to close down some of those sites,” he added.

Mkhize said food outlets and pharmaceutical companies that remained open for business because they were designated as essential services, were where the cluster outbreaks occurred, leading to several Shoprite stores and one GlaxoSmithKline factory closing in Cape Town as a large number of people were found to be positive.

“We will have different areas where the approach is not going to be the symmetrical. There will be areas where we might recommend that once the lockdown is lifted, in this particular area it may not be helpful to do so because of the level of transmissions we are seeing. That is how we are going to phase it.

“It's going to be, as we go along we try to see what is best for that particular time and area,” he said.

The government's risk adjusted approach will be about balancing the various aspects on a return to normal activity versus the reduction of the risk of transmission of infection.

Responding to a question on whether he believed it would be safe for SA to resume normal life given the approaching winter season, Mkhize said they didn't think that the return to normality would happen at the same time. “There are areas that will be quicker to return to normality and there are areas that are going to be more measured in the way we are going about it,” he said.

“The president has called it the risk adjusted lifting of the lockdown and that basically means that we will see how we classify the various levels. In this case we are at a level where the level of preparedness is very low as well as the level of transmissions is very high.

“Now we have to move to a point where the level of preparedness is higher and the level of transmissions is lowest and that goes through the five stages that have been highlighted,” he added.

Mkhize said the Western Cape's response to the pandemic would be bolstered with more kits and they would also be checking on personal protection equipment.

The national government would also place additional doctors in the province, including the Cuban doctors who arrived in the early hours of Monday morning.

“We are going to also be working very closely with the clinicians who are treating patients to see what assistance they need. We are also going to reinforce and put additional doctors, including those coming from Cuba, and we'll send them some more specialists in the communities where we think there is a shortage,” he said.

Mkhize said it was necessary to break Cape Town into small blocks so that they had a concentrated approach because of the large numbers involved at that level.

Over the past few days, the Western Cape surpassed Gauteng with the most confirmed cases in the country.

In the Eastern Cape, outbreaks were driven by social gatherings, mainly funerals, and in the correctional facilities.

Infections have shot up in the Eastern Cape over the past week, overtaking the Free State to fourth spot after KwaZulu-Natal. “We had to put in reinforcements immediately there because this was located in an area which is densely populated, that is the correctional services.

“So we are now going to be looking at the distribution of the specialists coming from Cuba so that we can reinforce some of the places we are dealing with,” he added.

Mkhize said in the Free State, the pattern was based on one incident where there was a church gathering, where many people got infected, and that was contained because for the past few weeks the numbers had remained stable.

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