Picture: 123rf.com/BETONSTUDIO
Picture: 123rf.com/BETONSTUDIO

Only one person has died from Covid-19 in SA, health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed late on Friday, after test results revealed that a second death was not related to the virus.

Earlier, Mkhize announced that there had been two deaths in the Western Cape, with premier Alan Winde confirming that two women aged 28 and 48 had died on Friday morning. At a later briefing, however, minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said that one of the deaths was still a “suspected” case.

Mkhize confirmed on Friday evening that test results showed the younger woman had tested negative for Covid-19. After suffering respiratory distress, she was intubated and transferred to hospital during the early hours of the morning. On arrival in ICU she was declared dead. 

“The clinical picture was suggestive of Covid-19 and therefore a test was conducted. Her laboratory results have since been received, at 5.20pm, and were confirmed negative,” Mkhize said.

The minister said the health workers that had worked with the woman had been debriefed and counselled.

“I am aware that the public interest around Covid-19 may end up making them feel like they did not perform their duties with utmost care. As a clinician myself, I want to reassure them that making such a diagnosis on presentation is in line with our plea to them to keep a high index of suspicion so as not to miss a diagnosis of Covid-19,” Mkhize said.

“In this instance, doctors and all health workers involved exercised clinical judgement and took extra precaution in managing this patient.”

Mkhize also gave a synopsis of the situation across the country in relation to the virus, where the number of infections has risen to 1,170. A total of 55 people are in hospital (both private and public); four people are in ICU; three are on ventilation; and there have been 31 recoveries.

A total of 4,407 contacts with patients have been identified, with 3,465 having been traced.

Mkhize said the infection of people with underlying concomitant diseases is increasing. Other groups at higher risk are smokers, those dependent on alcohol, and the elderly.

He said there was also an increase in the rate of internal transmissions, with patients without a history of travelling abroad having been detected in many provinces.

Mkhize also addressed the backlog in processing tests. He said this was significant, especially from some private laboratories, due to pressure caused by the increasing workload. The National Health Laboratory Services has increased its testing facilities.

There are five laboratories in the country’s academic hospitals: Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke, Universitas, Tygerberg and Groote Schuur, in addition to the laboratory at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which is the reference laboratory, he said. The government is now extending them to Tshwane Academic, Walter Sisulu and Port Elizabeth.

Mkhize said there were seven mobile testing laboratories and in April there will be a total of 47 spread all over the country. “By the end of April, we will be able to do 30,000 tests per day if required and we continue to source suppliers of test kits from different suppliers so that we can meet the demand,” he said. 

Mkhize said the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday afternoon hosted an information sharing virtual meeting with ministers of health from around the world. “One of the important factors confirmed in this meeting is that there is no proven therapy for Covid-19. At this stage, there is ongoing therapeutic research and vaccine trials at different stages of progress. There are 50 different candidates of vaccines that are in their early stages,” he said.

The WHO estimates that it may take a minimum of 18 months to have a confirmed vaccine.

SA institutions are also participating in the global research programme in search of a solution to the virus, under the guidance of the WHO, Mkhize said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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