The Portfolio Committee on Health and the Select Committee on Health and Social Services today held a virtual joint meeting where the committees were briefed by the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, on the state of readiness of quarantine sites in the provinces, shortage of personal protective equipment, services provided to refugees and asylum seekers, financial/budgetary implications of this pandemic for the Department of Health, policy implications post-pandemic and an update on vaccine trials.

In welcoming the Minister and the senior officials of the department, the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Health and Social Services and who was the Co-Chair of the joint committee meeting, Ms Maurencia Gillion, also, on behalf of the committees expressed a heartfelt word of welcome to the Cuban doctors and health experts who arrived in South Africa to assist the country in its fight against Covid-19.

Ms Gillion said all South Africans have noted the arrival of the Cuban doctors and health experts with appreciation. She said no amount of words or material token can indicate appropriately the depth “of our appreciation and thankfulness” of the assistance of Cubans to South Africa, especially in this fight of fighting an invisible enemy. The team of Cubans doctors and health experts arrived in South Africa yesterday on the eve of South Africa’s Freedom Day.

Furthermore, Ms Gillion thanked the Department of Health for the work, she described as sterling, against Covid-19. “Even before you brief us, I think we should thank you in advance. You are doing a sterling and remarkable work under very difficult conditions. You are doing your level best to push back the tide of the pandemic,” said Ms Gillion.

Briefing the joint committee, the Acting Director-General of the Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay, displayed graphs indicating the current national and provincial statistics on a wide range of aspects on Covid-19, aspects that included infections, deaths and recoveries.

In briefing the joint committee, Dr Pillay talked about the South African Covid-19 situation in the broader global picture, making a comparative analysis.

According to the graph that showed South Africa among countries in the Africa region, South Africa is still very low in connection with infections and deaths, and Dr Pillay attributed that to the effectiveness of the national lockdown and the high degree of adherence by South Africans to all the other strategies.

The rate of infections was reported as rising in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces, and in the metros in those provinces – the City of Ethekwini, Nelson Mandela Metro, Buffalo City and the City of Cape Town as Covid-19 hotspots, epicentres of the virus and the big drivers of the pandemic.

Dr Pillay told the committee that the department accelerates the implantation of its fighting strategies in those places, strategies such as door-to-door testing of the people, and he said the number of tested people is increasing.

On quarantine sites, Dr Pillay displayed a graph that indicated the numbers of quarantine sites that exist and activated in the provinces. According to him, it is only the KwaZulu-Natal province which is at 50% on activated quarantine sites. The Eastern Cape planned to have 114, but has activated only four by now.

Also briefing the joint committee, the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, answered questions that were asked to him by members of the Portfolio Committee on Health last week. Dr Mkhize told the joint committee that Gauteng and the Western Cape provinces remain the highest infected provinces with the virus. He said the Free State Province has been overtaken by the Eastern Cape when it came to infections. He said funerals and correctional services (prisons) are the main sources of the spread of the virus.

Dr Mkhize appealed to the joint committee to spread the word of encouragement to the public to wear masks and sanitise at all the right times. Asked by members of the joint committee on the supply of masks and measures against corruption, Dr Mkhize said people must buy their own masks. “The government is not responsible for supplying masks,” said Dr Mkhize.

By Mava Lukani

 27 April 2020