President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Nelson Mandela Bay to assess the Eastern Cape's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: WERNER HILLS
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Nelson Mandela Bay to assess the Eastern Cape's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: WERNER HILLS

Close to three weeks after seconding a senior director in his department to beef up the Eastern Cape’s fight against the new coronavirus, health minister Zweli Mkhize says he is now  happy with the province’s plan to deal with Covid-19.

The Eastern Cape has now overtaken KwaZulu-Natal with the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in SA, behind the Western Cape and Gauteng.

On April 23, Mkhize visited the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, the provincial hotspot with 568 confirmed cases, and expressed anger about the lax manner in which the provincial government and health MEC Sindiswa Gomba were handling the pandemic.

This prompted Mkhize to send a senior director to lead the tracing, screening and testing teams in the city and help beef up the province's response to the spread of the disease.

That intervention seemed to have worked. Mkhize visited Port Elizabeth again on Thursday, this time with President Cyril Ramaphosa to monitor the progress made by the interventions put in place by the national and provincial governments. During the visit, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane took them through a presentation on measures the province was implementing to address the outbreak, which has infected 1,534 and killed 24 there.

“This province is now on the right track ... [when I came here in April] the team was not quite coherent. But this time around, president, I’m happy,” Mkhize said.

“You are making fantastic progress,” Ramaphosa said to Mabuyane

“I’m really impressed with the strategy you have put in place. The Eastern Cape is live and awake. I particularly like the institutional framework [that you have your] own provincial coronavirus command council [which is] much broader than we have at national level.”

Mabuyane said the province had set aside R50.5m to upgrade 29 healthcare facilities to deal with Covid-19. He said a further R3m was being invested in the hospitality sector for their quarantine programme that 1,315 beds of a planned total of 2,646 had been made available. An additional 100 beds, at an estimated cost of R251m, would be provided, the premier said.

The provincial strategy is also focused on providing water and sanitation at schools, introducing an e-learning programme for the province’s 80,000 Grade 12 pupils, instituting stringent measures between the province's border with the Western Cape to limit the spread of the disease, as well as mass education and awareness programmes about Covid-19.

The plan is also focused on recruiting short-term critical expertise to assist in flattening the coronavirus curve, increasing human resource capacity for contact tracing, and allowing for each district to procure personal protective equipment (PPE).

On the economic front, Mabuyane said systems would be put in place to ensure the economy was rejuvenated to create and sustain jobs.

The Eastern Cape, which is heavily reliant on the automotive industry, contributes about 8% to the GDP.

Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Isuzu all have production plants in the Eastern Cape.

Mabuyane said they projected that manufacturing would decline 5.6% in 2020, while construction was projected to decrease 24%, transport and communications 23%, government services 3.1% and agriculture, forestry and fishing 4.4%.

Ramaphosa said he particularly liked the fact that the province was making interventions in education, water and sanitation, and in about 400,000 households affected by Covid-19.

That the province’s strategy was focusing on the economy was a “really good approach in dealing with the pandemic”.

“I’m delighted that here in the Eastern Cape ... you are looking at opportunities, not only to revitalise, but to transform and enhance recovery of economy,” the president said.

“The plan outlined here is particularly pleasing. You have awoken to the dangers of [Covid-19] ... You have put in plan a clear ... strategy. Indeed the lockdown has worked [because the last time] I came here I was a bit concerned about the rapid rise on infections. Now you have demonstrated to us that you have a clear strategy.”

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