Hospitals in the Western Cape are struggling to keep up with a surge in patients during South Africa’s second wave of COVID-19 infections.
This is according to a report from Sunday newspaper Rapport, which noted that public hospitals in the City of Cape Town Metro had exceeded their capacities and that private hospitals in rural areas are also being forced to turn away more patients.
According to the publication, public hospitals in the metropolitan area were 105% full as of Tuesday 22 December, with 5,040 patients admitted while only 4,809 operational beds were available.
The hospitals with the biggest capacity challenges included:
- Khayelitsha – 140%
- New Somerset – 133%
- False Bay – 129%
- Helderberg – 124%
- Mitchells Plain – 115%
In addition, 353 of the 367 ICU beds in public hospitals were occupied as of 24 December.
The issue is not limited to public hospitals, however.
Earlier this week, South Africa’s three major private hospital companies – Netcare, Life, and Mediclinic – warned that they had seen an influx of patients during the second wave of the outbreak.
“In four of South Africa’s most populous provinces, “we have noted a substantial resurgence in COVID-19 patients and the healthcare system is under significant pressure,” noted Charl van Loggerenberg, Life Healthcare’s general manager of emergency medicine.
He added that intensive care and high care units are “particularly under severe strain” in the KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape regions.
Netcare’s Chief Executive Officer Richard Friedland also told Bloomberg that its hospitals were observing significantly higher demand for oxygenation of sick patients versus the first wave.
All three the companies said they were hiring more nurses, temporarily allocating staff to hotspot areas, and implementing contingency measures such as converting certain wards to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
According to Rapport, a number of Mediclinic and Netcare private hospitals in the Western Cape were forced to turn away patients because they had no more beds.
New variant blamed
The rapid increase in cases is being blamed – in part – on a new COVID-19 variant recently observed by genomics scientists in South Africa.
Clinicians have provided anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture – in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim said the second wave shows signs of spreading faster than the first wave of COVID-19.
“It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests that the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave. It is not clear if the second wave has more or less deaths, in other words, the severity is still very unclear.”
“We would expect it to be a less severe virus, but we do not have clear evidence at this point. We have not seen any red flags looking at our current death information,” he said.
“We had all of these different strains routinely spreading in South Africa during our first wave and subsequently. What became quite different that we did not expect is the rapid way in which this variant has become dominant in South Africa.”