*Note: Due to different reporting times, provincial statistics will differ to national statistics by a few cases on a given day.
The Western Cape is bracing for peak Covid-19 cases due to community transmissions starting before the other provinces, its head of health said on Wednesday after another 28 new deaths were recorded.
On Wednesday, Premier Alan Winde announced during a digital press conference there had been 39 new deaths recorded in one day on Tuesday.
These deaths were recorded throughout Tuesday, and not at the usual cut-off time of 13:00 for provincial numbers, it was clarified.
Going by the province’s 13:00 to 13:00 reporting time period between Tuesday and Wednesday, the increase in deaths was 28, confirmed by the province in a subsequent statement.
Dr Keith Cloete, the department’s head of health, said: “Community transmission has been established earlier in the Western Cape so we have actually detected more cases because we had community transmissions earlier.”
Until mid-April, the national testing criteria included a “yes” for international travel, or contact with a person who had travelled internationally.
When this criteria was changed, the community transmissions started coming to the fore, emerging among the essential service workers who were the backbone of the economy and the health system during Level 5 lockdown.
By 13:00 on Wednesday, the Western Cape had 11 072 cases and 211 deaths recorded after 100 721 tests had been done.
Retail workers showed the highest number of people who had contracted the virus, followed by law enforcement, pharmaceutical workers, retirement and old aged homes, correctional services and the public transport sector.
In the Cape Metro, essential service workers in Khayelitsha were hardest hit, followed by Tygerberg.
As these essential service workers came down with the coronavirus, and testing was done around them in their communities, the “hot spots” started radiating out of Dr Melvin Moodley’s charts.
Moodley is the director of strategy at the Department of Health, and his map of the Cape Metro resembles a measles picture with pockets of the communities battling with the virus.
“… We are on the upward path of the curve, which is the nature of the epidemic,” said Cloete.
He added the local transmissions predicted by Dr Salim Abdool Karrim had come to the Western Cape much sooner than expected.
Although quarantining and isolation measures are being put in place, the need is going to exceed what is available.
Winde said 90% of people who tested positive would get through with few symptoms.
“Ninety percent will be able to deal with it asymptomatic or symptomatic at home, and 10% will need healthcare.”
He added the Western Cape still believed the lockdown level should be lowered by one more notch from Level 4 to avoid further economic catastrophe after the loss of 200 000 jobs, and the collapse of 28 000 small businesses.
Winde said having different lockdown levels for different regions of South Africa would be “chaotic” once the rest of the country also started showing high local transmission numbers and increased testing.
Regions will be changing their levels quickly and it will be chaotic to keep up, hence his recommendation of one level with businesses and individuals making their own choices based on their own risks.
Cloete warned an increase in the relatively low number of cases in the rural areas and Cape Winelands was coming.
The cases started in Witzenberg three weeks ago, and have been moving to Drakenstein, Stellenbosch and the Breede Valley in the past two weeks.
There are emerging early clusters in the Overberg (Theewaterskloof and Swellendam), and West Coast (Swartland) during this past week. But there are still many areas with no cases, or sporadic cases.
Because of the heavy load expected, the strategy is going to be to focus on high-risk patients with comorbidities and patients who are sick already.
There have also been positive results with a high-flow oxygen system with a person lying prone on their stomach, instead of using the dreaded ventilator.
Testing is severely backed up and priority is going to be given to healthcare workers and people who are already ill.
There is a backlog of between five to seven days for results.
The provincial government’s officials are meeting regularly and daily with national officials over managing the pandemic.
However, it wants to know when it is going to get its cut of the national budget, and how much, as it is currently dipping into its own funds to manage the crisis.