Thu | Aug 6, 2020

South Africa’s hospitals bracing for surge of virus patients

Published:Friday | July 3, 2020 | 10:19 AM
In this May 8, 2020, file photo a man looks into a tent as a health worker in protective gear collects a sample for COVID-19 testing in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The nurse started crying when describing her work at a Johannesburg hospital: The ward for coronavirus patients is full, so new arrivals are sent to the general ward, where they wait days for test results. Already 20 of her colleagues have tested positive.

“A lot, a lot, a lot of people are coming in every day. With COVID-19,” said the nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorised to speak to the media.

“Each day, it becomes more difficult to cope.”

South Africa’s reported coronavirus cases more than quadrupled in June — though some of that is due to efforts to clear a testing backlog, the rate of increase of new cases is picking up.

Its hospitals are now bracing for an onslaught of patients, setting up temporary wards and hoping advances in treatment will help the country’s health facilities from becoming overwhelmed.

The surge comes as the country has allowed businesses to reopen in recent weeks to stave off economic disaster after a strict two-month stay-at-home order worsened already high unemployment — it reached 30% in June — and drastically increased hunger.

In Johannesburg, the largest city, health officials said they are considering reimposing some restrictions to try to slow the quickening spread of the virus.

“We’re seeing a spike in infections in Johannesburg. The number of people that we are diagnosing on a daily basis now is absolutely frightening,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who is leading a vaccine trial in South Africa in cooperation with Britain’s University of Oxford.

“Who we are finding positive now is an indication of who will be in hospital three weeks from now.”

The vaccine trial began last week, and Madhi said he’s surprised by the high number of prospective participants who have been disqualified because they are positive for the virus.

Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com or editors@gleanerjm.com.