Commuters at the Randburg taxi rank in Johannesburg, March 17 2020. Picture: AFP/MICHELE SPATARI
Commuters at the Randburg taxi rank in Johannesburg, March 17 2020. Picture: AFP/MICHELE SPATARI

Gauteng’s public hospitals will reduce the number of outpatients they treat to alleviate the pressure on the already overburdened institutions.

Premier David Makhura and provincial health MEC Bandile Masuku announced the measures on Wednesday as the province seeks to put into action the interventions announced by the national government on Sunday.

Makhura said the level of panic seen is not necessary and that the level of panic at public-health facilities will outrun the province’s capacity. He thus called on the residents of Gauteng not to rush to these facilities in large numbers.

He said that while the panic is creating a crisis for Gauteng’s health facilities, it does, however, mean that the message about the seriousness of the coronavirus has hit home since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Sunday.

Gauteng will use the committees that already exist in communities and which were used in the fight against HIV/Aids, to fight Covid-19. While Makhura was clear on the lessons learnt from that fight, he added that the coronavirus outbreak has created an opportunity “to ensure that the public-health system can reach all our citizens”. 

Since the pandemic hit SA, Gauteng, which contributes more than a third of SA’s GDP, has been the province hardest hit, given its dense population and aviation ports. According to figures released on Tuesday, the province has reported 16 cases so far.

Authorities around the world have locked down cities and curbed travel to battle the pandemic that has infected more than 205,000 people, with about 82,000 of those recovered, and caused more than 8,200 deaths worldwide, according to the John Hopkins University coronavirus resource centre.

Gauteng ‘vulnerable’

Makhura said on Wednesday that Gauteng is “exceptionally” vulnerable to the outbreak, and that the province will not hesitate to enforce the restriction imposed by the national government, which includes the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people.

Masuku said elective measures, such as scheduled operations, will also be reduced for about a month, but this would depend on how SA responds to the virus.

Kwara Kekana, Masuku’s spokesperson, said priority will be given to emergency services and services to pregnant women. He said the province will almost be putting the system to rest to alleviate the potential pressure on it. This is the same approach used over holidays. 

“We postpone or put into abeyance operations that are not essential or life-saving at the time,” Masuku said, adding that even when the hospitals go to “rest”, emergency services are still available.

Dealing with one of the big concerns raised as the virus spreads, Masuku said that while the majority of those who have tested positive so far were affluent and able to self-quarantine, the province is busy making preparations to quarantine township patients.

Masuku said the province will also procure more testing kits and more flu vaccinations, noting that the most vulnerable groups of people will be vaccinated for the ordinary flu as part of the measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

He said the government will also increase the number of tracers in the province from about 250 to 1,000. The tracers, taken from the province’s community healthcare workers, will be trained to help Gauteng’s response.

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