Enough ICU beds 'could be difference between life and virus death'


Medical resources – including hospital beds, ICU beds and protective equipment – could be the difference between life and death for the millions of Covid-19 cases expected to emerge in the country by the end of winter.

This is according to predictions emanating from the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium yesterday.

Expected colder weather conditions were highlighted as an aggravating factor in the coming months, according to auditing firm Deloitte.

The coming surge of infections would coincide with the scaling down of the national lockdown to level 3 which, despite the known risks, was highly supported by business and political organisations.

Presenting the company's prediction model at a joint event with the department of health yesterday, Deloitte's Ashleigh Theophanides explained that their model was focused on identifying the level of need for such resources as personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other support materials.

"A lack of hospitalisaton could affect the fatality rate so it is important to manage that and ensure that we have the appropriate facilities provided to those that need it," she said.

According to sample results garnered using Deloitte's model, South Africa could see Covid-19 related deaths reaching 3,551 by the end of June, and over ten times that figure by the end of August this year.

Even as early as the end of this month, daily deaths could spike to 419.

Following criticism over the department's lack of transparency over the model government was currently using, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize revealed this week that despite thousands of extra beds in the pipeline, the country could run out of ICU beds by June.

Speaking before the consortium's presentation yesterday, Mkhize said from 5 March when the first case was recorded, government experts noted that the country's trajectory appeared similar to that of the UK, with its exponential daily increase in the rate of infection, prompting the speedy and extreme measures of the lockdown imposed on 25 March.

But this was not the time to cower and lock the country down further, political and civic bodies urged.

The Democratic Alliance's shadow health minister Siviwe Gwarube said the projections made yesterday that there could be between 12 and 13 million Covid-19 cases by November this year were consistent with global trends on the pandemic.

It was clear that the country had received everything it could from a hard lockdown. The next phase of the strategy needed to focus on effective management and containment of the virus.

Key to that was the provision of healthcare facilities.

"What is more concerning is the shortfall of ICU or High Care beds which are in the country. The current 3,300 beds is wholly inadequate for the 20,000 projection of beds that will be needed. It is now time for government to consider urgent and alternative means to obtain equipment and staffing operations for expanded capacity," said Gwarube.

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