As the government prepares to move large parts of the country into lockdown alert level three, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has made a case for why the province should move to lockdown Level 3 in its entirety – despite it having the highest rate of Covid-19 infections in the country.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Premier David Makhura has told his provincial legislature that the province will move to alert Level 3 in June and not in a piecemeal manner.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that “most parts of the country” would be eased into alert level three last week he underscored that parts of the country with the highest infections will remain on level 4, albeit with relaxed regulations on business activities. The government has been holding consultations with various stakeholders in government, business, labour and communities over the proposal.
On Tuesday Winde released a statement outlining the “targeted hotspot strategy” that the province has adopted to respond to the rising cases of Covid-19, which now total over 10 000.
The strategy – which covers health, economic and social interventions– goes “beyond district level” by using epidemiological data to zone in government efforts into areas where the virus is spreading. Winde believes that the intervention is enough for the province to move to alert Level 3, which would allow more economic activity “thereby preventing a severe humanitarian crisis from unfolding at the same time”.
This plan was presented at the President’s Coordinating Council this weekend.
The province’s Economic Development and Tourism department estimates that even as the country gradually lifts restrictions, over 200 000 jobs will be lost in the province due to the hard lockdown and the alert level 4 restrictions.
“The situation will be even worse if we stay on Alert Level 4 and businesses are forced to stay closed,” said Winde.
The Western Cape anticipates that at the peak of the pandemic there will be 200 admissions and equal discharges of Covid-19 patients per day.
To prepare for this it is currently working on converting the Cape Town International Convention Centre into a temporary hospital with 850 beds.
At the same time, Winde said extra temporary hospitals would be erected along the R300 in the metro, in Khayelitsha and in the Cape Winelands, providing 616 beds.
This is in addition to the 2 162 general care beds and 150 ICU beds that exist in hospitals across the province. There are currently 432 ventilators in the Western Cape and 100 more have been ordered for use during the peak. There are plans to realise an additional 2 292 beds for the quarantine and isolation of patients in addition to the 2 365 beds which are already there.
“This is not a zero-sum game. We can care for sick people and save lives now, and we can do it in a way that saves lives in the future too,” said Winde. “We must remember that the scientific reason for the lockdown has been to allow us time to prepare for the peak of the pandemic.”
“Covid-19 cannot be stopped, and many people will be infected over the coming weeks.
“The key measure that must be used to determine levels is whether we are prepared to provide care to every person who needs it at the time they need it,” he said.
Similarly Makhura said Gauteng, which contributes 34% to the national economy, would migrate to Level 3 in June and this would not be done in a “disjointed” manner.
“We cannot have one municipality or metro in Level 4 and other in Level 3 or 2. The districts are highly integrated. We are going to Level 3 together,” said Makhura, while answering questions in the provincial legislature.
Makhura said different sectors are being prepared for the ease in restrictions and would be assessed to determine which ones are compliant with the World Health Organisation’s requirements. He said the retail sector that was responsible for the spread of the pandemic in Cape Town through supermarkets would be under scrutiny, as well as the public transport sector.
At the time of writing Gauteng, formerly the epicentre of the virus, had 2 343 confirmed cases. The second highest in the country.
Makhura said according to the province’s modelling, the economic depression caused by Covid-19 will have a severe impact on employment: causing 900 000 job losses in the best-case scenario and up to two million jobs lost in the worst-case scenario.
He said social distancing has proven difficult in densely-populated areas such as townships and informal settlements and as a result, there have been more new infections in these areas, while suburban areas are showing more recoveries and less active cases.
While the rate of infection in townships is still low and the number of positive cases are not that high, Makhura said the province is focusing on these geographic areas and directing the health resources to trace and isolate those infected in order to curb cluster infections.
Makhura said the province is far from reaching its peak but ,should the pandemic peak at “anytime” it would be ready.