Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has moved to allay fears that a shortage of testing kits and a backlog at labs will hamper government’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Mkhize made the remarks at a press conference on Tuesday. The briefing followed his inspection of hotspots in the Western Cape.
The minister announced that the country now has 35,812 confirmed Covid-19 cases, and said the death toll was yet to be confirmed for the past 24-hour reporting period.
The Western Cape remains the epicentre with 23,583 cases. The Eastern Cape is now second with 4,324 cases, Gauteng has 4,276 and KwaZulu-Natal has 2,637 cases.
Mkhize was at pains to explain that the numbers of tests which could be conducted were reliant on procurement from outside South Africa, making it difficult for the country to get the desired number of kits given the international demand for them.
In the absence of kits, the department of health has finalised guidelines for “clinical management” of patients which will kick in until tests can be done.
“This [clinical management] means the doctor who is looking after the patient makes a judgement call, and the test generally becomes a supplementary support for the doctor.
“So if we have the test, all good, but if the tests are delayed, there is a way of managing the situation. We have all discussed it. If you have a patient who has symptoms and needs to be treated, the doctor will assume the patient has the infection and will treat until the results come.
“If someone has mild symptoms, also treat them as positive and make sure they are isolated and do not spread the infection. Make sure they are well supported over 14 days even if they didn’t have symptoms. It is only safe to release them after 14 days unless you receive a test which indicates you caught them at the latter end of the infection,” Mkhize said.
“We are clarifying the guidelines for anyone who is awaiting test results so they do not compromise their community.
“We are going all out to ensure we source as many testing kits as possible. The issue of the backlog is a temporary one. We will solve that.”
The minister has announced the finalisation of talks which will enable the Western Cape to begin sourcing beds from the private sector once the public sector becomes overwhelmed.
“We are happy with the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State, where the numbers were higher. We are quite comfortable we have bed capacity.
“We have been to the Cape Town International Convention Centre field hospital, rural areas and the situation in the urban space. I am comfortable that enough work is being done there,” he said after his visit to the country’s epicentre.
“What do I see as an area of constraint? The first issue was the number of beds matching the number of patients. We have agreed we need the province to have reserve capacity in case the numbers go up faster than the beds being released. Then we must use the private sector.
“We are finalising this discussion this evening [Tuesday]. No patient must fall through the cracks.”
Mkhize said President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to visit the province “in the coming days”.