Picture: 123RF/HXDBZXY
Picture: 123RF/HXDBZXY

Cape Town has reported 600 more natural deaths in the three weeks to June 9 than usually seen at this time of year, according to the latest weekly mortality report from the Medical Research Council (MRC), highlighting the city’s steadily worsening Covid-19 epidemic.

The Western Cape accounts for 60% of SA’s more than 80,000 reported Covid-19 cases.

The trend in excess deaths is consistent with the increase in the number of reported cases and hospital admissions for Covid-19, said Debbie Bradshaw, director of the MRC’s burden of disease unit.

As of Wednesday, the Western Cape had recorded more than 45,000 cases of Covid-19. There were 1,419 patients in hospital, with 243 in intensive-care units (ICUs) or high care, across public and private hospitals. Researchers are now watching closely to see whether similar trends emerge in other metropolitan areas that are starting to see a sharp uptick in their coronavirus cases, such as Johannesburg.

Natural deaths are those caused by an infectious disease or a condition such as cancer, while non-natural deaths are caused by events such as traffic accidents or murder. The MRC publishes a weekly mortality report, using death records from the department of home affairs. The analysis only includes people with a South African identity number and excludes babies under the age of one.

Graph: SA Medical Research Council
Graph: SA Medical Research Council

The Western Cape health department expects the province’s Covid-19 epidemic, which is centred on Cape Town, to peak in late June or early July, said its head of health, Keith Cloete. The cumulative number of cases, hospital admissions and deaths reported to date were closely tracking the department’s epidemiological modelling projections.

The department had taken a “conservative and pessimistic” approach to ensure it planned appropriately for the peak, he said.

He warned that people would still need to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and observe strict hygiene measures even after the peak passed, because the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus would still be circulating.

“Until there is a vaccine we are going to have to live with Covid-19. After the peak it is even more important to have the behaviour change in place because, as you see internationally, we are starting to see second waves,” he said.

Cape Town has already begun admitting patients to two field hospitals, the Hospital of Hope in the Cape Town International Convention Centre and the Thusong Centre in Khayelitsha, designed to accommodate the overflow from the city’s public hospitals. A total of 88 patients have been admitted to the Hospital of Hope since June 8, while Thusong has admitted 72 patients since the beginning of June.

A cumulative total of 2,400 health-care staff had been infected with Covid-19 in the Western Cape so far, said Cloete. It was unlikely that extra public sector staff would be sourced from Gauteng, as initially hoped, because that province’s cases were rising steeply.

The Western Cape health department is on a recruitment drive and has called for volunteers. It has received some additional support from the military and a delegation of health-care professionals from Cuba.


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