Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RAYMOND PRESTON
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RAYMOND PRESTON

Although there has been a notable decline in the number of new Covid-19 cases recently, SA is not yet past the surge in infections, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Friday.

He was welcoming the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) “surge team”, brought  into the country to assist in the fight to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“We have received queries why there would be a need for the surge team if we are past the surge. I would like to emphasise for our people that we are not past anything; we are still the country with the fifth-highest positive cases in the world,” Mkhize said.

According to statistics tracking website Worldometer, SA (572,865 cases) is behind only the US (5,420,316), Brazil (3,229,621), India (2,483,567) and Russia (912,823) in terms of confirmed infections.

There are promising signs that the worst of SA’s coronavirus crisis was over, but the country still risks a second wave of the disease if prevention measures falter.

Mkhize's comments come as the government weighs up further relaxation of SA’s lockdown rules, including the possible removal of bans on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

Mkhize said SA was only now considering easing some of its Covid-19 related restrictions but has not yet crossed the critical juncture of reopening its borders.

“With the threat of resurgence remaining very real, we would not want to repeat recent history witnessed in some countries and allow a second surge to wreak further destruction,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize said he hoped the WHO team would look at the situation in SA with fresh eyes, and identify areas which the SA team had not spotted.

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the surge team of 43 experts was a mobilisation of expertise from the global organisation, and would provide support in a number of technical areas.

These included infection prevention and control, case management and surveillance and streamlining of epidemiological systems.

On Thursday Moeti praised SA’s efforts to fight the pandemic. “The country responded quickly with the types of interventions that we have seen in other countries and that the WHO has recommended,” she said in an online briefing on Thursday. “They did all the right things.”

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he hoped the organisation’s long-standing co-operation with SA gave it a firm grounding for this latest challenge.

“It is critical we remain vigilant. We hope these experts will supplement and expand on your efforts,” Ghebreyesus said.

Mkhize said the country had in the past few weeks seen some provinces, which had been carrying the highest burden of the virus, showing a downward trend. These included Gauteng, with about 195,000 total cases, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

“This, for us, is good news. We have said we are cautious about it,” Mkhize said.

However, there are still concerns about KwaZulu-Natal, which this week became the second worst-hit province in terms of overall infections.

Mkhize said that while the surge was anticipated, it happened in numbers that were much lower than originally expected.

“Nevertheless, we remain cautious as we have so many more months still to traverse and to make sure we are over the problem. It looks as though we are over the peak, even though our predictions still have another two months of concern about a possible surge,” he said.

Mkhize said because the country was not in a position to predict how the pandemic would behave, the government believed it must err on the side of caution.

“We can never take anything for granted. We would rather err on the side of caution. We will only know when we are many, many months away from the positive cases being reported in the country,” he said.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.