The Western Cape is expecting 80,000 people to be infected by Covid-19 at its peak, with a shortfall of 750 beds in critical care facilities, Premier Alan Winde said on Tuesday.
However, the good news is that at least 90% of those who contract the coronavirus will be able to recover at home.
The Western Cape has experienced three waves – imported cases, cases associated with imported cases – which have declined; and is in its third wave – local transmissions, which are rising and were at 1,010 out of the national total of 3,465 by Tuesday.
Seventeen people who tested positive have died.
The province is also expected to have a shortfall of 100 beds in acute wards, and 750 in critical care, but it will have field quarantine facilities.
The head of the province’s health department, Dr Keith Cloete, said the hardest hit in the latest wave of transmissions were essential services staff who were keeping the country going while everybody else was in lockdown.
Factory and retail workers as well as nurses, doctors, porters, pharmacists and security guards are those now testing positive.
So far, 88.7% of people who have tested positive have not needed to be admitted to hospital, while 8.4% were in a general ward and 2.9% in ICU.
Those who died had co-morbidities ranging from diabetes and heart problems to hypertension.
The age distribution of patients in the province diagnosed shows that 4% are up to the age of 19; 44% are between 20 and 39; 38% are between 40 and 59; 13% are 60 to 79 and 1% are older than 80.
However, of the 17 people who died (by Tuesday), 56% were between 40 and 59; 25% were 60 to 79 and 19% were in the over-80 age group.
The Western Cape has so far provided designated sites for people who isolate or quarantine at home with 546 beds in use so far as it ramps up its contact tracing, focusing on where the new cases work, live and travel.
Cloete said the department was shocked by a sudden spike in cases in Witzenberg from none to 27, and it was focusing on tracing contacts there.
The Western Cape has 14,000 healthcare workers, and so far 47 have tested positive for Covid-19.
In terms of equipment, the province has two million surgical masks, with one million on order; 4,000 personal protective equipment kits, with 50,000 on order; 50,000 gowns, with 190,000 on order; and 432 ventilators, with 100 on order.
The problem with critical care beds is not the beds themselves but finding enough nurses to tend to the people who may occupy them.
Cloete said for every worker who tested positive, the entire shift that worked with them had to go into quarantine, which made it even more important for people to abide by distancing and hygiene rules.
Winde said Western Cape residents have “by and large” obeyed the lockdown to flatten the curve, but should continue to do so.
He added that to help people who have no income, the province had put aside at least R53 million for food parcels, saying it had also placed 90 more people in its call centre to cope with the demand.
He advised anybody battling to get an essential service permit to distribute food to partner with an NPO that had a permit, or to contact the department of social development to join its “food pipeline”.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo urged residents of the province to stay in lockdown, wash their hands, and not hug or kiss.
Professor Andrew Boulle of the Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research at UCT’s School of Public Health and Family Medicine said the centre had looked at the world’s “worst-case scenarios” and still could not say what South Africa’s experience of Covid-19 was going to be.
He added if South Africa was successful at containing the existing cases and their contacts, and maintaining social distancing, there might be less of a need for beds for acute cases.
Cloete added discussions were currently underway to plan for a possible higher number of funerals should this be required.
This includes consulting the department of environment on how cremations could affect air quality.
“The majority of the people will actually recover,” he said.