A growing number of health-care workers have been infected by Covid-19, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Saturday evening, as the national tally rose to 1,187. Among them is a 70-year-old doctor, who is in intensive care in the Free State.
A total of 13 health-care workers, including 11 doctors, have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, but none appeared to have been infected by patients, he said in a statement issued as SA neared the end of the second day of the three-week national lockdown ordered by President Cyril Ramaphosa to try and curb the spread of the disease.
Mkhize said protecting frontline healthcare workers from the flu was a vital aspect of SA’s strategy for combating the pandemic, and they would be given priority in receiving the vaccine, which was in short supply. SA had received “very limited” stock of flu vaccines, which had been ordered a year ago, well before the emergence of Covid-19, he said.
“As government we have engaged with the pharmaceutical industry and it became clear that the distribution of this vaccine has to be rationalised and prioritised. We have therefore taken a decision that health workers in the country will be given priority in receiving the flu vaccine… The country cannot afford to have them sick especially as the flu season approaches. This is one of the major lessons that we have learnt from countries that have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“We therefore plead for the understanding of all South Africans who may unfortunately not have access to the flu vaccine this year,” he said.
The number of Covid-19 cases in SA has risen rapidly since the first one was announced on March 5, and it now has more than any other country in Africa. However, Saturday’s total is a relatively modest increase on Friday’s figure of 1,170. Mkhize said this was no cause for celebration.
“We must outrightly state that these numbers do not indicate a reduction in the number of infections. It is merely a reflection of positive results that were received, verified and ready for today’s reporting,” he said.
So far only one person is believed to have died from the coronavirus in SA. Gauteng remains the epicentre of SA’s outbreak, with 533 cases. Western Cape has 271, and KwaZulu-Natal 156. Free State has 68 cases, Limpopo has 11, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape each have 10, while the North West has 6 and Northern Cape has 5. However, 117 cases are unallocated to provinces, because the paperwork for these patients was incomplete.
Mkhize said the South African citizens who were repatriated from Wuhan a fortnight ago had all tested negative for the coronavirus, and were making preparations to leave their quarantine site at the Ranch Hotel in Limpopo.
SA would be participating in an international clinical trial overseen by the World Health Organisation to test potential therapies for Covid-19, he said.
The Solidarity trial will investigate remdesivir, which was previously used in an Ebola trial, the HIV/AIDS medicine lopinavir/ritonavir; a combination of lopinavir/ritonafir and interferon beta-1a used for multiple sclerosis; and the malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
The SA research team is headed by Professor Helen Rees, the chair of the medicines regulator, and Jeremy Nel, who will co-ordinate 30 scientists from the SA Military Health Service and eight medical schools, he said.
These include Wits, the Sefako Magkato University, the University of Pretoria, the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of the Free State.
They will be undertaking the study in 14 leading hospitals across the country, said the minister. Other participating countries include Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand.
BY: TAMAR KAHN