Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has indicated that the winter season and its health risks, including co-infections, will give the government a better picture of what it had to prepare itself for in terms of possible Covid-19 mortalities in the coming months.

Mkhize was speaking during the virtual briefing of the World Health Organisation (WHO), focusing on the state of the spread of the coronavirus on the African continent and measures put in place to contain it.

Mkhize said SA’s peak in infections was expected between July and September, when mortalities were also expected to rise.

“We keep improving our focus model as we improve the data coming from our test sites, so we will only be certain that any focus is correct when the numbers that we have fed in have actually been in place for a while and we observe the changing pattern of the epidemic,” he said.

“We actually believe that the numbers that are going to be coming in in the beginning of winter, when the co-infection with influenza viruses are going to give us a better sense whether we are going to look at a much more pessimistic scenario, where there will be a rapid rise in the numbers of people who are infected… or if it is going to be possible to manage it until September.”

With 197 127 tests conducted by Thursday noon, 5 350 people have been infected so far and 103 have died, while 2017 of them have recovered from the global pandemic.

Mkhize said the government had not publicised any projections of deaths for SA, but that awareness had been issued that “if we do not manage to reduce the number of cases, then the death toll might increase and therefore we will go on to make preparations for that”.

“We have a number of focus groups working on this matter and in the process we realise that their figures are varied, and so we have avoided publishing figures because they can also be misused for sensational purposes,” Mkhize said.

More than 35 371 cases have been confirmed in Africa and 1 534 deaths reported across the continent.

Mkhize said African countries had to follow SA’s proactive mass testing to ensure that sick Covid-29 patients did not collapse their already burdened healthcare systems.

“I think for us in Africa what would be useful is for us to go all out and use our health workers and field operators to reach out and find people with suspicious symptoms and test them early before they are complicated, and then in the process we could isolate them if they are found to be positive.

“That, I think, is going to be very helpful in reducing the number of people who are going to overwhelm our systems,” Mkhize said.

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the organisation was hard at work advising many African governments to put in place the various effective measures aimed at bending the curve of infections.

Moeti said many African countries were implementing Covid-19 responses at different speeds, including basic preventative measures like social distancing.

In Tanzania, positive Covid-29 cases jumped by 196 to 480 on Wednesday as the country was accused of lagging behind in enforcing preventative measures and of allowing places of worship and shopping centres to remain open without restrictions.

“What we have observed, for example, is that Tanzania took some time to implement measures, particularly the physical distancing measures,” Moeti said.

“In addition to that, after Dar es-Salaam was recognised as being the epicentre, the prevention of travel from this epicentre also took some time to happen.

“In addition, we have had reports from neighbouring countries that truck drivers who are travelling by road carrying cargo from across Tanzania have in a number of neighbouring countries been found to be positive,” Moeti added.

Political Bureau

By Siviwe Feketha