Government failed to prepare properly for the second wave of COVID-19 hospitalisations the country is currently experiencing, reports the Sunday Times.
According to the publication, following an audit of 160 South African hospitals, government was informed that most of these institutions needed their oxygen-supply systems to be upgraded urgently.
Despite this, the Sunday Times said that “government has done little to fix the problems.”
This was echoed by ministerial advisory committee member, professor Ian Sanne – speaking in his capacity as CEO of Right to Care – who said that “little if any action has been taken.”
“There are serious concerns around … the transportation to distribute oxygen, and district, regional and rural hospitals which have limited storage systems,” said Sanne.
“I am significantly concerned about the delays. The health department has been warned of the consequences of inaction.”
The South African Medical Association (SAMA) also told the Sunday Times that South Africa is not as well-prepared as it was for the first wave, and argued that government did not do enough to replace hospital workers who died due to COVID-19.
“SAMA warned the health department in October that staffing plans needed to be in place when the second wave struck, but there was no desperate effort to employ more staff,” said SAMA chair Angelique Coetzee.
“With staff ill or on leave … the second wave is overwhelming hospitals. Even if there were available beds, you need people to man them.”
COVID-19 second wave
On 9 December 2020, health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that South Africa had entered a second wave.
He noted that the age group spanning 15-19 years had incurred the highest number of cases over the preceding two days.
On 28 December 2020, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be returning to an adjusted level 3 lockdown.
“Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced in the first wave, and thousands more people will lose their lives,” said Ramaphosa.
On 1 January 2021, South Africa reported a record 18,000 new cases – meaning that Ramaphosa’s statement has already come true.
Additionally, while there have been many concerns over the availability of vaccines in South Africa, Mkhize stressed that South Africans should be focusing on how to save lives right now.
“Vaccines have dominated the conversation, and we appreciate that everyone shares our sense of urgency to procure and rollout vaccines equitably, beginning with the most vulnerable in our population,” said Mkhize.
“However, I am concerned that the dominance of these issues takes away our focus on the things that will save our lives now. The fact is the virus will continue to mutate and there will always be a new variant discovered – that is only a matter of time,” he said.
“The virus will not wait until these matters are resolved: no matter how fast we work. Therefore it is important to continue wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and sanitising.”