General

Caution urged amidst surge in COVID-19 cases

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says while the rise in COVID-19 cases experienced in some provinces hasn’t yet gripped the whole country, efforts must be stepped up to fight the surge of infections.

The Minister today visited the Northern Cape to assess the province’s management of the resurgence of cases and vaccine rollout. He confirmed that the province has for weeks been in the third wave.

The Northern Cape’s COVID-19 hospitalisation has increased by 8% week-on-week, while the province is recording about 600 daily infections, with deaths on the rise.

According to Mkhize, four provinces in the third wave, namely the Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Gauteng.

“However, the country as a whole is not yet in the third wave, and the third wave will probably [be confirmed] once you get the numbers in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape.”

Gauteng

The Minister warned that cases in Gauteng, which currently has over 20 000 active cases, are still going to peak, with the province most likely to record the highest number of cases.

“So, we’re monitoring that situation,” he said.

Gauteng is among the hardest-hit provinces, with 21 700 patients who are currently infected.

It is followed by the Free State with 9 276 active cases, while the Northern Cape has 9 172 and the North West 6 985.

Northern Cape interventions

Mkhize admitted that the Northern Cape is facing challenges of scarcity of resources, including human resources, infrastructure and underfunding.

The province has to contend with the long distance between various vaccination centres.

“It means it’s very difficult to invest in the same proportion as we do in other parts of the country.

“I’ve been discussing… what… can be [made] available from the COVID-19 allocation that the province has been given,” the Minister said.

Meanwhile, Mkhize said they will look into assisting the province to make more nurses available.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine

With regards to the halting of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Mkhize said he called a meeting with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and Johnson & Johnson.

“That’s where we decided that a meeting should be held with the FDA [US Food & Drug Administration] and SAHPRA to clear the issues and release the vaccine.”

The J&J vaccine suffered some setbacks in the United States after contamination problems at a COVID-19 vaccine plant in Baltimore, which has had a knock-on effect locally.

The South African government is still awaiting an announcement by the FDA on the manufacturing conditions at the United State factory, which halted the global release of doses of the J&J vaccine.

“We need our regulator to say we can use it… The regulator must… [discuss] with the FDA and European Medical Agency, [it must analyse] the reports and [be] comfortable with the fact that [the vaccine] can be used…” Mkhize said.

The Minister said it is not the job of the manufacturer to authorise the use of the vaccine but the regulator’s.

“We’re very desperate to get those vaccines. We need them as in yesterday.”

According to Mkhize, two-thirds of the people that need to be vaccinated in South Africa are awaiting the J&J vaccine.

“In the Northern Cape, we’ve designed [the vaccine rollout] based on the J&J vaccine. We’re desperately in need of it. However, it’s the regulator that must say we can continue, and not the manufacturing company.”

Source: South African Government News Agency