'Pupils, teachers contracted virus before going to schools', says Zweli Mkhize

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said an intense screening and testing programme was instituted in schools to ensure the early identification of Covid-19 cases before they become super-spreader events.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said an intense screening and testing programme was instituted in schools to ensure the early identification of Covid-19 cases before they become super-spreader events.
Image: File/ Sandile Ndlovu

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said recent cluster outbreaks in schools across the country are the result of pupils and educators who had unknowingly contracted Covid-19 in their communities before returning to school.

“It was for this reason that an intense screening and testing programme was instituted in schools to ensure the early identification of cases before they become super-spreader events,” Mkhize said.

He said his department were “equally keen” to ensure minimal disruption to the school calendar going forward, and they are working with experts and the department of education to strengthen protocols so schools do not close unnecessarily because of identified cases.

“Overall, we expect all provinces will start experiencing an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, even those with low numbers now.

“We are closely monitoring all districts, whether they are high transmission or low transmission areas. The differentiated approach emphasised the need to increase monitoring and surveillance in low transmission areas,” he said.

Mkhize said reinforcement and health intervention teams would be deployed for additional capacity in hotspots.

He said the lockdown and the prohibiting of large gatherings has helped to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Recognising that the numbers will soon outpace manual tracking and tracing, we have piloted a tracking and tracing ICT application solution which has already demonstrated excellent efficacy in the geolocation of cases, tracking and notifying contacts, and providing information and alerts.”

“These are proving to be wonderful communication tools, enabling us to send messages to affected individuals on their mobile phones. This tool bolsters the work of existing contact tracers, whose value in engaging community members cannot be diminished by technology.”

Mkhize said the country has not reached full bed capacity, but it was receiving urgent attention together with provincial departments.

Successful public and private partnerships are paramount so we are very pleased that negotiations with the private sector are now concluded and private facilities are ready to accept public patients.

“We have engaged industries to secure what we need to meet our increasing oxygen requirements, and we are very gratified by the co-operation and willingness of industries to divert oxygen to hospital facilities.

He said he was confident the country would meet the demand for  ventilators.

Mkhize appealed to citizens living with comorbidities to not neglect their appointments and medication because they are afraid of becoming infected with the virus at a facility.

“We have ensured that all facilities have a triaging mechanism in place to separate those with flu-like symptoms.

“It is vital that everyone living with comorbidities ensures good control of their chronic conditions.”

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