Emergency staff waiting on ambulances to arrive at the Netcare Greenacres Hospital as Covid19 cases are rising in the bay. Picture: EUGEN COETZEE/THE HERALD
Emergency staff waiting on ambulances to arrive at the Netcare Greenacres Hospital as Covid19 cases are rising in the bay. Picture: EUGEN COETZEE/THE HERALD

Private hospital operators warn that they are facing severe capacity constraints due to a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

The Covid-19 pandemic first peaked in late July before infections tailed off but the country is in the midst of a second wave of the disease that began shortly before the festive season during which millions of people traverse SA to holiday destinations or home towns and villages.

Netcare, Life Healthcare and Mediclinic International, the country’s three biggest private hospital groups, which had spare capacity in most areas during the initial surge, all said they are confronting bed shortages.

In the four most populous provinces, “we have noted a substantial resurgence in Covid-19 patients and the health-care system is under significant pressure”, said Charl van Loggerenberg, Life Healthcare’s GM of emergency medicine.

Intensive care and high-care units are “particularly under severe strain” in the KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape regions, he said.

Besides admitting more Covid-19 patients, the hospitals are having to administer additional treatment.

“We are seeing a significantly higher demand for oxygenation of sick patients versus the first wave,” Netcare’s CEO Richard Friedland said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“We have seen more cases in both the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and expect to exceed the number of cases seen in the first wave in KwaZulu-Natal this week.”

The number of cases in the economic hub of Gauteng, which is already on the rise, is expected to spike when holidaymakers return in early January, Friedland said.

All three companies are recruiting more nurses, temporarily relocating staff to hotspot areas and making contingency plans to convert additional wards to accommodate Covid-19 patients. Non-essential surgical cases are largely being postponed.

While SA has reported the spread of a new Sars-CoV2 lineage with multiple spike mutations, the current wave is equally affecting South Africans using the public health-care system, according to Gerrit de Villiers, a group GM at Mediclinic.

At this stage, guidance on treatment of Covid-19 cases has not changed, he said.

There have been 930,711 confirmed coronavirus infections in SA so far, and 24,907 people diagnosed with the disease have died, according to the department of health.

Bloomberg

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