Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has paid tribute to President Cyril Ramaphosa for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday, the minister paid tribute to Ramaphosa, his Cabinet, health specialists and advisors for their contributions during the health crisis.
The minister also had special words of thanks for the healthcare workers who were at the forefront of the fight against the virus, saying that they were doing a wonderful job and that their roles were very important.
He also extended his condolences to the family and friends of the healthcare workers who had lost their lives to the
The minister said that South Africans needed to adjust to a new reality as the coronavirus would be with us for at least a year. Every South African needed to understand that there was now a new way of life and that there were things that were no longer possible to do.
Mkhize, however, said that continuing with the lockdown in its current form was no longer sustainable and that as such, they had taken a differentiated approach to curb the spread of the virus.
“The continuation of the lockdown in the way that it was imposed is no longer sustainable and what we now need to do is to accept the reality that COVID-19 as a disease is going to be with us for a year or two or more and therefore we need to adjust to a new reality of how we’re going to live through social distancing and ensuring that everyone wears a mask when they leave their homes.”
The minister explained that areas of low transmission and coronavirus hotspots would be dealt with differently, adding that if the measures taken in the hotspots did not work, then there was a possibility of stronger restrictions, similar to the current lockdown.
He added that the only way to defeat the virus was if there was a behavioural change across society.
WHY DID SA CHOOSE TO FLATTEN THE CURVE?
In his presentation on Friday, epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim explained South Africa’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Karim said that the country’s response was to try and avoid a rapid increase in infections that could overwhelm the healthcare system. He explained that in the absence of natural immunity to the virus, almost everyone was at risk of infection, adding that if the virus had an opportunity to take root, we would see increasing infection numbers that would need hospital care.
So the reason for choosing to flatten the curve was to lower the infection rate so that the peak was lowered to levels where hospitals could cope with the infections, adding that hospitals that could cope could also provide better care and there’d be less deaths.
Professor Karim further explained that South Africa had chosen to flatten the curve early as it had learned from the experiences of other countries, noting that countries that flattened their curve late struggled to do so.
He said that South Africa’s response was to ensure that community transmissions were slowed, to give the healthcare system time to expand its capacity, to better prepare and equip hospitals for the surge in cases that may come and to give the country time to scale up its testing and prevention measures.
Karim further explained that it was very difficult to eliminate the virus.
He said that even before infection and actual symptoms were shown, the infected person was already spreading the virus. He said that experts thought that between 20% and 50% of infected people were only mildly affected and were asymptomatic.
The virus also spread more rapidly than other infections, explaining that it was associated with superspreading events. He added that because there was no adequate immunity, there was a risk of repeat outbreaks.
He said that the best strategy adopted to flatten the curve was the lockdown.
PREVENTING RAGING FIRES
Professor Karim warned that while South Africa had managed to flatten its curve, it could easily see the curve rise if it did not use all the tools in its prevention toolbox and join the countries most affected such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
He further warned that flattening the curve was not a single event and that South Africa was only at the start, having averted the exponential curve it expected in March.
“We are going to need to continue our efforts, we are going to have to continue for months, years and just depending on when and if we obtain a vaccine,” Professor Karim said.
The time the country had gained with its lockdown measured had given it time to improve testing, build healthcare capacity, establish field capacity and PPE procurement, but he added that there was lots more that needed to be done.
“There is simply no room for complacency. We expect the numbers to rise depending on what the migration patterns are in the Western Cape, we may see a continual feeding of the epidemic from the Western Cape to the east and that may be when we see the next outbreak,” Karim explained.
He said that the situation in the Western Cape, currently the epicentre of the outbreak in South Africa, was an early indication of what the country could see in the rest of the country.
Karim said that he hoped what the country learned from the Western Cape, it could then avert some of the rapid growth in the epidemic in the rest of the country.
“Indeed we are learning a lot from the experience in the Western Cape as we focus on identifying hotspots and intervening and essentially finding the flames so that we can prevent raging fires.”