Picture: 123RF/HONGQI ZHANG
Picture: 123RF/HONGQI ZHANG

The Western Cape health department has revised its coronavirus projections, and now expects a flatter but more deadly epidemic curve that peaks in late July or August and then holds steady until at least November.

It previously anticipated a steep surge in late June, which has not materialised to the extent that was expected.

While a flatter trajectory will alleviate some of the anticipated pressure on health services by spreading the load over a longer period, and give patients a better chance of getting the care they need, officials warned that the province is still in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that is set to worsen in the coming months.

The latest projections from the national Covid-19 epidemic model, calibrated to data from the Western Cape, anticipates peak daily deaths of 150 a day, more than double the current rate of between 60 and 70 deaths a day.

Cumulative deaths are now expected to be more than 11,000, compared to the last iteration of the model that projected 9,300 deaths.

The Cape Town subdistricts of Klipfontein and Khayelitsha are already recording death rates on a par with some of the hardest hit countries in Western Europe.

Klipfontein and Khayelitsha’s mortality rates stand at 700 per million and 500 per million respectively, said public health specialist Andrew Boulle.

“If the Western Cape were a country, the daily mortality due to Covid-19 by population size would be one of the highest in the world right now,” he said.

The UK had recorded 660 Covid-19 deaths per million population by July 1, while Italy had recorded 575 Covid-19 deaths per million population, according to the website Statista.

Boulle said the Western Cape was experiencing an “unheralded” increase in the number of natural deaths compared to previous years. “The last time we saw this in SA was at the height of the Aids epidemic, prior to the availability of widespread treatment,” he said. Such acute deviations from historic death patterns only happen during epidemics and in times of war, he said.

Western Cape head of health Keith Cloete said the latest modelling scenario anticipated 5,450 hospital beds would be required at peak demand, lower than an original April scenario of 6,304 beds and a May update of 7,800 beds. The department had finalised service-level agreements with the private sector for critical care, and had referred its first three patients to private hospitals Netcare and Life Healthcare, he said.

Cloete said the testing backlog at the state laboratory in the Western Cape had been eliminated, and the department was now in a position to expand its testing criteria, with a focus on patients with diabetes, as this is a significant risk factor for severe disease. The province began rationing tests at the beginning of June because the National Health Laboratory Service could not keep up with demand.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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