Covid's new normal: President Cyril Ramaphosa consults on way forward

Under draft level one restrictions, all manufacturing at 100% employment will be allowed, as well as ocean transport, among other eased regulations.
Under draft level one restrictions, all manufacturing at 100% employment will be allowed, as well as ocean transport, among other eased regulations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to chair two key meetings on Tuesday as signals point towards a possible easing of Covid-19 restrictions, amid a decline of new infections.

His office said he will lead a National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) meeting, attended by representatives of government, business and labour. This follows a number of meetings held in the last few weeks to come up with ideas to rebuild the economy severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the same day, Ramaphosa is also expected to chair the president's co-ordinating council meeting which includes ministers, premiers and leadership of the SA Local Government Association.

“The meeting is expected to deliberate on a report from the national coronavirus command council on the country's response to the pandemic,” the presidency said.

Health Minister Zweli Mhize on Monday night said there was a sustained decline in the rate of coronavirus cases in SA.

“The number of detected cases countrywide continues to decline — since August 22 we have reported under 3,000 cases a day- at the height of the epidemic during the month of July we would report anything between 10,000 and 15,000 cases a day,” he said.

“Supporting this decline is also a demonstrable decline in persons under investigation, general ward admissions, ICU admissions, deaths and excess deaths. Consistency across these indicators reassures us that indeed we are in the midst of a trough in the pandemic.”

The minister said a NICD Covid surveillance in selected hospitals report, outlining analyses of data collected from 459 public and private facilities across the country, showed a clear shift in the behaviour of the epidemic with downward trends in general ward and ICU admissions and deaths.

In total 66,515 patients were studied with 4,314 currently admitted. The discharge rate from hospital was 75% while the in-hospital case fatality ratio was 17.5%. The median age for admissions was between 50 and 59 and the median age for deaths was between 60 and 69.

At the height of the epidemic, these sample hospitals were reporting between 6,400 and 6,800 admissions per week.

SA has benefited significantly from the contributions of the World Health Organisation surge team that has come to reinforce the SA team in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Mkhize.

The WHO surge team has released a situational report reflective of the 37th week of SA's epidemic, which confirms the decline as reported by NICD. “This report showed a 42% decline of detected cases in the preceding two weeks and a 28.9% decline in deaths in the same period. Admission to critical care wards increased by 13.9% during this epidemic week but, conversely, admissions into general wards decreased by 43% in the same period. The median test positivity rate was recorded at 9.8% compared to 11.4% in the previous week.”

Hospital bed occupancy and oxygen demand is also declining.

The percentage of beds currently occupied by Covid-19 patients nationally is under 10% for non-ICU beds and under 30% for ICU beds.

Commenting on the Covid lockdown restrictions, under the national state of disaster, Mkhize said: “Having observed evidence that suggests a sustained decline in coronavirus transmission, as the department of health we have considered easing restrictions in various aspects — such as the curfew, sale of alcohol, religious gatherings, and travel restrictions — for the national coronavirus command council, which will make final recommendations to cabinet.”

He cautioned, however, that “whatever decisions are made, it is important to emphasise that the risk of spreading and contracting Covid-19 still remains and that non-pharmaceutical interventions remain important as we learn to coexist with the coronavirus.”

“This nation has shown that with concerted effort and solidarity it is possible to beat coronavirus. However, I must continue to advise caution as we move towards the new normal: if we are to maintain this status quo of low transmission rates we must continue to concentrate on the simple things that keep coronavirus at bay- washing or sanitising hands at every opportunity, maintaining a safe distance between each other, regular cleaning and sanitisation of surfaces we come into contact with and wearing of masks whenever we are in public spaces.

“The threat of a resurgence that could be more devastating than the first wave of infections remains very real.”


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