Western Cape premier Alan Winde. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
Western Cape premier Alan Winde. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

The health system in the Western Cape is under severe pressure and the next two weeks will be critical as admissions in hospitals are expected to increase over this period, premier Alan Winde said on Tuesday.

The head of the provincial health department Keith Cloete said based on what is happening on the Garden Route the province expects the pandemic to reach its peak in the Cape Town metro in the first week of January.

He said the second wave of the pandemic is proving to be significantly higher than the first in June with hospitalisations and deaths increasing sharply over the last four weeks. There is a growing need for oxygen and a higher number of positive cases.

The new variant of the coronavirus, which is transmitted much more easily, is evident in the province, Winde said in his weekly update on the efforts to deal with the pandemic. He called for greater vigilance in practising health protocols and said he will be meeting with faith-based organisations to discuss gatherings over Christmas. He is also engaging with business over more stringent controls at the entrances and exits of shopping malls.

Existing restrictions are to be monitored to determine whether more are necessary, Winde said.

As of December 21 there were 34,694 active infections in the Western Cape and a total of 2,503 hospitalisations of which 323 were in high care. Every area in the Cape Town metro has shown increases except for Khayelitsha, Cloete said.

The reproduction rate of infections in the province — the number of people a person infects — now stands at 1.3, which indicates that a lot of new cases are being generated.

Cloete said there is intense pressure on hospitals and additional capacity will have to be created in both public and private hospitals. Trauma cases related to alcohol, road accidents and crime are contributing to the pressure on the hospital system.

Occupancy rate of 105%

Metro hospitals are running at an occupancy rate of 105% and have to add more beds to accommodate additional patients.

Hospital capacity — there are 5,244 acute hospital beds in the public sector — is under pressure and 613 additional beds in existing facilities in the metro will be installed.

The number of Covid-19 hospitalisations in the public sector  across the province is more than 1,500, exceeding the 1,000-1,200 figure for the first wave and it is still increasing, Cloete said.

In the private sector hospitalisations stand at about 1,200 compared to the 800 at the peak of the first wave — an increase of 30%. Patients from private sector hospitals have had to be transferred to public sector hospitals.

Although absolute numbers remain high the first signs of stabilisation are emerging on the Garden Route, which was identified as a hotspot by health minister Zweli Mkhize and where beaches have been closed.

Cloete said the number of active cases and hospitalisations on the Garden Route is beginning to decline especially in Bitou, George and Knysna, but other smaller areas such as Oudtshoorn, Hessaqua, Kannaland and Mossel Bay are still  showing an increase in cases.

 At the peak of the first wave 27 tonnes of oxygen were used, whereas now 32 tonnes are being used.

Health workers are under significant strain with a total of 761 active cases among them at the moment and 58 admissions and five deaths over the last 14 days.

A total of 1,327 additional nurses will be introduced into the system, Cloete said, and the military will be asked to contribute staff as well.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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