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South Africa orders COVID-19 tests on all ‘sudden death bodies’

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MINISTER of Health Zweli Mkhize has expressed careful optimism about downward trends in new daily infection rates in South Africa but said lockdown restrictions are likely to remain to prevent a second, bigger surge.

  The minister while providing update on the outbreak of coronavirus infections in the country said COVID-19 tests will be done for all sudden deaths and that a team of experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) will arrive in South Africa later today to assist the Department of Health.

According to the minister, tests should be conducted in all cases of sudden death to improve the department’s death records but said they were observing a noticeable downward trend in new infections daily.

“We now require that all the sudden deaths and those that occur at home must have specimens taken for Covid-19 [testing] before a death certificate is issued,” Mkhize said.

Medical Research Council report says the latest data shows the all-cause national number of deaths for people older than one per week has risen to 16,223 and is 63 per cent higher than the predicted number in the third week.

 “When compared with the predicted numbers, there was an excess of 6,256 deaths in the latest week,” their findings state; adding that the number of deaths from natural causes is also significantly higher than the predicted number.

According to medical council, statistics covering May, 6 to July 21, 2020, there has been an excess of 22,279 deaths from natural causes.

Mkhize said that there are now 521,318 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in South Africa but added that it looks like the country might be over the peak of the outbreak by the end of August.

He said his department’s recommendations will be tabled at the sitting of the National Command Council but warned that restrictions will remain in place to prevent a second surge.

Mkhize said the country could expect “more guidance” from the National Command Council by next week.

 “The WHO has agreed to our request for their re-enforcement as we continue to implement our national COVID-19 response. As we know, South Africa is now in the top five countries globally in terms of the number of infections”

Continuing, “WHO will be sending 43 senior experts from across the globe including renowned specialists such as David Heymann, who is a seasoned infectious disease epidemiologist and public health expert. I’m also pleased that Mike Ryan will be leading the team from Geneva and will now be focusing on South Africa and providing us with constant advice whilst analysing our strategies, including the decisions we have taken as the department of Health in our COVID-19 response,” he said.

 He emphasised that it is  a great opportunity, not only to improve the  country’s health strategies during this pandemic but also to accelerate path towards healthcare reform.

“We are happy that even with the targeted testing approach which we adopted as a department based on the Ministerial Advisory Committee advice, our testing numbers continue to grow. To date, we have tested 3,078,202 people. This translates to a testing rate of 51,514 per million population which compares well to global figures.

He noted that the question whether the plateau that is observed in some provinces is due to reduced testing numbers or if indeed less people are becoming infected with coronavirus should be rested, since there has been a reduced number of hospital admissions and patients under investigation presenting at health facilities.

 “We have not breached hospital capacity despite the surge, there has also not been a significant increase in deaths.” Mkhize said.

 He however admitted that the country is not yet out of the woods, requiring that greater care must be taken not to lose achieved success so far.

“We are cautiously optimistic; it is still too early for us to make definite conclusions regarding the observed decline. We need to continue to track all these indicators and ensure that our testing capacity reflects a realistic picture of our epidemiological status. We will therefore only know for sure when there is a consistent decline over a period.”

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