IOL 20 March 2020

Johannesburg – Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that at least six to seven out of every 10 South Africans would be directly affected by the coronavirus, with at least two out of every 10 cases being severe. 

He was speaking at a Q&A session with concerned doctors from the South African Medical Association in Pretoria on Thursday night. 

Speaking frankly to fellow professionals in a bid to get them to come on board to combat the virus, Mkhize also warned that South Africa’s coronavirus numbers were heading for the 200 mark by Friday. 

Mkhize told the doctors that at least 60-70% of people in communities would be affected by Covid-19 virus, but from those, 20% of those infected would be serious cases. 

“Our estimation, in any community 60 to 70% will be affected by the virus in our communities. We cannot hide that. So I said to the religious leaders, most of us are going to have this virus, but it does not mean it will be a severe disease to all of us, it will be severe to the 20%, so let’s make sure that at every time the 20% is small,” he said. 

Mkhize said it was possible to turn the situation around, but also cautioned against the notion of growing calls to enforce a lockdown, saying it would be impossible to enforce a lockdown in townships. 

“The real issue now is that coronavirus arrived in South Africa 14 days ago. We panicked with one patient, but I can tell you we got even more surprised at the rapid increase because two days later we had three and then it started in that direction. 

“We are quite certain that by tomorrow (Friday) we will have gone higher than 200.

“The reality for us is that we need to be working together to deal with this issue,” he told doctors. 

Mkhize said he was comforted that religious leaders and opposition political parties had all given their support to the government as it attempts to combat the Covid-19 virus. 

“I like the approach which says turn your home into a church, turn your home into a mosque, turn your home into a synagogue, do not stop the prayer, but everyone must pray at home so that the numbers of congregating together are very limited,” he said. 

On Thursday night, Italy recorded the most coronavirus deaths, surpassing China. Italy now has more than 3400 deaths to its more than 41 000 infections, whereas China has more than 3200 deaths to its more than 80 000 infections. 

“it’s important to say we are not going to be different as South Africa. We are going to have to face up to a number of lessons from various countries and at the same time we are unique, we should be behaving in a way where we can change the course of this infection,” said Mkhize. 

The minister said they had reached an agreement with private hospitals about providing extra beds when needed. 

“We have now come together to say at a certain point when we need extra beds. 

“As soon as we saw the threat rising we have said now there must be decentralised beds created on a city-to-city or town-to-town basis so that we have more space to absorb people,” he said.

Meanwhile, on testing for the virus, he said the country would have capacity to test up to 30 000 per day from April and 15 000 per day from next Tuesday. He said the country currently had capacity to test 5000 people per day, but in two weeks since the virus was confirmed in South Africa, under 5000 people had been tested for Covid-19. 

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