“COVID-19 is not on holiday. We all must take extra precautions"

“COVID-19 is not on holiday. We all must take extra precautions now so that we start 2021 strong” 

Yesterday evening, the National Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed officially that South Africa is experiencing a second wave, driven by a growth of cases in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.  

To put it simply, COVID-19 is not on holiday this festive season. It is very real and it continues to spread within communities across the province and country.  

Our task now is to do everything possible to prevent ourselves and our loved ones from being infected by the virus, or from spreading the virus.  

If we all play our part now, we can continue to keep our economy open and protect our health system, saving many lives and livelihoods. This is the December Challenge that we must all embrace.  

The Western Cape Government is working around the clock to execute its three-pronged approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19 

In the Western Cape, we have been working around the clock to execute our three-pronged approach to roll-back our resurgence and to save lives and livelihoods.  

This includes:

  • Continuing with our health response by providing care to every person who needs it;
  • Effecting behaviour change so people protect themselves and their loved ones; and
  • Significantly increasing enforcement of existing regulations, with operations from the City of Cape Town, Western Cape Traffic Services, SAPS and the Western Cape Liquor Authority. 

Since I last briefed you, I have also submitted a plan to the President and National Minister of health setting out how this province is responding to our resurgence.  

In that plan, I specifically asked for:

  • Assistance with our enforcement activities, with additional resources being supplied to hotspots for this purpose
  • A reconsideration of the number of people being permitted to gather in hotspots, especially indoors, given that the virus spreads at gatherings and where there is poor ventilation. This must be done reasonably based on scientific advice.
  • Applying of his mind to potential consequences for those who refuse to wear a cloth mask, such as a fine. This is because masks are an effective way to stay safe and slow the spread while still keeping the economy open.  

I also reiterated that the Western Cape remains opposed to lockdowns. They are a blunt tool that must be avoided at all costs. It would be devastating for our economy and cause our humanitarian crisis to worsen.   

Instead, we need localised interventions to slow the spread which are common sense and evidence based.  

As South Africa enters its second wave, we urge the National Government to avoid blunt tools and to do everything possible to get the balance right between saving lives and livelihoods.  

(1) The Western Cape’s Health Response 

COVID-19 infections continue to increase in the Western Cape, with the Cape Metro on upward trajectory 

The Western Cape continues to see a marked increase in COVID-19 cases taking us to levels previously seen in June 2020. 

  • New COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days have grown by 53.4% when compared to the previous 7 days.  
  • Hospitalisations have increased sharply since mid-November, reaching 1615 yesterday. 
  • In the last week, the Western Cape conducted more tests (16 131) than since the first wave ended.  
  • The proportion of tests coming back positive continues to rise and is now above 30%. This is heading towards what was recorded during our first peak (40%). 
  • Oxygen usage at our hospitals also continues to increase. 
  • The number of health workers being infected by COVID-19 is also increasing, currently at 312 active cases.  
  • The City of Cape Town has shown a sharp increase in cases and continues on an upward trend.  
  • The patterns differ between sub-districts in the Metro, but all are showing an increase. 
  • The Southern and Western sub-districts in particular are showing a rapid increase in cases, with the 7-day moving average exceeding the first peak for both sub-districts. 
  • Outside of the Metro, the rural regions are showing a sharp increase in cases, and in all sub-districts, with the exception of the Garden Route remain on upward trend. 

We have the first promising signs that the Garden Route is stabilising, pointing to this district reaching its peak 

For the first time since the start of the resurgence in the Garden Route, the 7 day and 14 day moving averages of new infections are crossing. The district is also starting to see signs of decreasing hospitalisations and deaths. 

There are therefore very hopeful signs that the Garden Route may have reached its peak.  

However, as we know from our resurgence, the situation can change again if super-spreader events continue to take place. 

We also must remember that Garden Route hospitals remain under severe pressure, with our healthcare workers exhausted. 

I therefore call on every single person in the Garden Route to use this first promising sign of good news as motivation to keep on protecting yourselves and your loved ones, and to avoid all non-essential gatherings this festive season.   

Hospitals in the Western Cape are under extreme pressure, as the growing number of trauma and COVID-19 cases collide  

During the course of the pandemic, the Western Cape has taken a number of steps to ensure we have adequate capacity to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As a result of this planning, we still have intermediate care facility capacity in our system, including: 

  • The 338 bed Hospital of Hope (Brackengate) 
  • The 60 bed Freesia Ward in Mitchell’s Plain, donated by Gift of the Givers 
  • More than 60 beds available at Sonstraal Hospital in the Cape Winelands. 

Our total capacity as it stands now is: 

  • Metro hospitals are running at an average occupancy rate of 81% 
  • Rural hospitals are running at an average occupancy rate at 84% 
  • People with confirmed COVID-19 and people under investigation for COVID-19 (PUI) make up 10% of hospital admissions in the Metro and 13% of hospital admissions in the rural areas, and they continue to increase. 
  • The Hospital of Hope (Brackengate) currently has 179 patients, Sonstraal has 5 patients, and the Freesia COVID-19 dedicated Ward has 31 patients. 

We must be under no illusion that our hospitals are under extreme pressure right now and our health workers are battling.  

Unlike earlier this year where major services were deescalated; the Western Cape has reintroduced comprehensive services for other health problems since September. This was the right thing to do because all healthcare is important. 

We are also now starting to see a major growth in the number of trauma cases presenting at our acute care facilities, which is a common trend for this time of the year. 

Indeed, over the month of November, the number of trauma admissions have increased by 36.2%.  

When this is combined with a 400% increase in COVID-19 admissions over the same period, the system starts to come under extreme pressure. 

The increase in trauma remains related to the abuse of alcohol, as captured in our reporting at several hospitals. The trauma is caused primarily by inter-personal violence and motor vehicle accidents. 

Fortunately, the Western Cape Department runs its health platform as a single system, where the total number of beds in places like the Metro are looked at in its entirety. This means that while we are near capacity in some areas, we still have beds available in the overall system. 

However, if the growth in trauma and COVID-19 cases continues to grow at current rates, the acute care capacity in the Western Cape will start to buckle. We cannot allow this to happen. 

Each week, at cabinet, we deliberate on our current position, working to get the balance right between the need to ensure our healthcare system is not overwhelmed, and trying to keep the economy as open as possible.  These discussions are ongoing.  

I do need to make clear, though, that the Western Cape does not support blunt instruments like a total ban on alcohol as we saw earlier this year, as this would destroy our hospitality and agro-processing economy and exacerbate our humanitarian crisis.  

Our goal has always been to base our decisions on data and evidence, and to this end we are receiving updates on a daily basis. 

In the meantime, our enforcement activities continue to scale up significantly in the Metro and our Festive Season Traffic Operations have now commenced. These operations are a critical tool to help us bring down trauma as well as COVID-19 infections. 

The most important tool available to us continues to be individual behaviour.  

Please drink responsibly this festive season. If you get into a car accident over this time, there might not be a bed for you because of the number of people in our hospitals right now. So please look after yourselves and your loved ones and stay safe.  

(2) The Western Cape’s Enforcement Response 

“The City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government and our partners have stepped up enforcement operations” 

Enforcement of existing regulations under Alert Level 1 is a key pillar of our COVID-19 resurgence response.  

Since my last briefing our Joint Operations Centre has developed a single grid to coordinate all enforcement activities during this festive season.  

The Provincial JOCOM will also now meet twice a week to ensure coordination of law enforcement and other operational activities.  

There are a number of key government partners involved in these coordinated activities including the SAPS, Metro law enforcement, Western Cape Traffic Services, the Western Cape Liquor Authority, and environmental health officers in the Metro and municipalities.  

The City of Cape Town’s Festive Season Preparedness Plan and efforts to slow the spread of COVID

In line with its Festive Season Preparedness Plan announced earlier this week, the City of Cape Town will be taking a number of steps to keep residents safe this festive season: 

  • 2260 operational members from the Metro Police, Traffic Services and Law Enforcement will be deployed in accordance to the combined Festive Season preparedness plan of the three policing departments. 
  • There has already been an increased number of multi-agency compliance operations at establishments around the city, from 69 in October to 85 in November. 
  • Some 340 season beach lifeguards and 300 seasonal swimming pool lifeguards will be deployed around the Metro.  
  • Swimming pools will be operating at reduced capacity, in line with COVID-19 protocols. This will include screening done at entrances, and no socialising being permitted on the deck. Change room and showers remain closed. 
  • City Health will maintain a heightened vigilance with the hiring of additional staff members to assist in managing the health response.  
  • The City will limit the number of visitors to picnic spots and braai areas in its nature reserves, starting from 12 December 2020. 
  • The City’s Transport Directorate has installed temporary fences at various public transport interchanges as an additional measure to curb the spread of COVID-19. 
  • The City has also postponed all summer markets indefinitely, given the resurgence. 

As part of this plan, the City’s Health team will monitor: 

  • Accommodation establishments 
  • Camp sites 
  • Funerals  
  • Places of entertainment   
  • Festive season markets that the team is made aware of  
  • Shopping malls 
  • Other premises where public gather, including tourist attractions 

These teams have already done excellent work in holding places that are non-compliant accountable.  

Between July and October 2020, the City’s Health inspected 8216 premises for COVID-19 compliance. Of these, 1074 were found to be non-compliant. A further analysis shows that 17% of supermarkets, 6% of restaurants and nearly 15% of taverns/bars and pubs were non-compliant. 

Commenting on the City’s Plan, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith said: 

 “When it comes to enforcement around by-laws and alcohol. Alcohol is a big concern over the festive season, particularly drinking and driving and also consuming alcohol on beaches and other public spaces. 

The City’s Liquor Unit confiscated nearly 20 000 bottles (11 535,63 litres) of alcohol during the last summer season. Since the resumption of alcohol sales in terms of the disaster regulations, the City’s enforcement services have seen a steady increase in alcohol related arrests on the roads. 

We’ve mentioned before that alcohol-related trauma places an unnecessary burden on the health system, particularly now that we are needing those resources to combat the COVID-19 resurgence. It also places pressure on our limited enforcement resources who are stretched at the best of times. Add to this the enforcement of ongoing land invasion attempts, and it becomes clear that our staff and their fellow enforcement services are being put through the wringer. My appeal to the public is to stay on the side of right this festive season and be part of the solution." 

Mayoral Committee for Community Services and Health, Cllr Zahid Badroodien added: 

‘The City invests a lot of resources into COVID-19 safety. Our Environmental Health Practitioners will continue to inspect businesses for COVID-19 compliance and educate residents on the virus. As part of the summer season readiness campaign we will reduce capacity at swimming and other recreational facilities in line with COVID-19 protocols. We remind the public to be mindful of this, and to cooperate with staff while queueing at our facilities, or while enjoying the amenities. At the beach, too, please keep your distance and wear your mask when you’re not swimming.’ 

The Western Cape Liquor Authority undertook 103 enforcement operations this past weekend 

I am also pleased to report back that the WCLA has stepped up its enforcement activity, undertaking 103 operations this past weekend alone. 

This is a critical part of our efforts to ensure these establishments play their part and prevent alcohol related harms from taking place, and we expect to up the number of enforcement operations further over the coming weeks.  

To date we have suspended 49 licenses, with 11 applications being referred to the prosecutor for further action. 

The Western Cape’s Traffic Services Festive Season campaign has been launched, with additional focus on COVID-19 

Last week Thursday, Minister of Transport and Public Works, Bonginkosi Madikizela, launched the Western Cape’s Festive Season Road Safety Campaign, which is now in full swing.  

Due to the resurgence this year, the plan will also have a focus on COVID-19 protocol enforcement, especially on public transport.  

In addition, these officers will also create awareness of protocols for this travelling within and into our province.  

In total, this impressive traffic operation includes: 

  • 13 traffic chiefs  
  • 490 operational staff 
  • 296 marked vehicles 
  • 20 unmarked vehicles 
  • 8 motorbikes 
  • 5 high performance vehicles to be activated should the need arise 
  • 2 vehicle testing units that can test roadworthiness on site 

If you are planning to travel over the festive season, please remember to: 

  • Wear your mask over your nose and mouth at all times in any public transport vehicle, whether it is a minibus, a bus, a train, or an aircraft.  
  • Make sure the windows of any minibus, bus or train you travel in are open 5 cm on both sides of the vehicle.  
  • Use the free USSD code *134*234# to report public transport non-compliance. 
  • Sanitise or wash your hands regularly.  
  • When you arrive at your destination, avoid the three Cs – crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined spaces.  

(3) The Western Cape’s Behaviour Change Response 

We are providing localised information so that every community knows how the virus is spreading in their suburb” 

The Western Cape Government is launching a comprehensive behaviour change campaign across the province to ensure that residents continue to protect themselves and their loved ones. 

This campaign will include: 

  • Radio adverts in Afrikaans, isiXhosa and English 
  • Digitial media adverts that alert residents to hotspots 
  • Street pole posters in towns where we expect many visitors this season  
  • Roving billboards and digital billboards at transport hubs and along routes 
  • Awareness activations at places of gathering such as beaches and in shopping malls 
  • A #maskup campaign aimed at younger residents 
  • Engagements with business and other civil society groups  

This is in addition to communication campaigns to be launched by the City of Cape Town and other municipalities.  

We are also regularly sharing localised COVID-19 infection data with residents via whatsap so that they know how quickly the virus is spreading in their respective communities. 

“Keep it small, outdoors and shorter this festive season” 

Because the virus spreads in droplets that travel in the air, it is important that you “protect your airspace” this festive season.  

This means that you must avoid all non-essential gatherings and crowds of people. 

This is going to be a major challenge during the festive season, when many people want to see their friends and loved ones.  

To help guide you this year, our health department has put together ‘smart choices’ guidelines that you should follow over the next few weeks. 

If you are attending a gathering 

  • Think small (choose events or get-togethers where there are few people) 
  • Think short (keep your time spent at the event short) 
  • Choose outdoor activities 
  • Wear your mask correctly by covering your nose and mouth 
  • Protect your “air space” by keeping a distance of 1.5m 
  • Avoid crowds, confined spaces with poor ventilation and close contact with others 
  • Open the doors and windows to allow fresh air circulating indoors 
  • Continue to regularly wash/sanitise your hands 
  • Avoid any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and condiment or drink stations. One person should serve all the food and drinks. 

If you are hosting a gathering 

  • Think small: limit the number of guests – this lowers the risks for everyone. 
  • Host your gathering outdoors – fresher is better. 
  • If indoors, make sure all doors and windows are open to get good ventilation. 
  • Arrange tables and chairs at least 2m apart. 
  • Inform guests to bring their masks. 
  • Consider providing hand sanitiser in addition to clearly marked hand washing areas. 
  • Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so guests do not share a towel. 
  • 24 hours before event: Remind guests to stay home if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or if they are sick. 
  • When guests arrive, don’t shake hands or hug, rather wave and verbally greet them. 
  • If serving food, identify one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils. 

This has been a difficult year for many of us and we are all very tired of COVID-19. I am too. 

But we all now need to give one big push so that we roll back this ‘second wave’ and start 2021 stronger, with our healthcare system and economy open and working.  

I know that if we all work together in this way, by staying safe, and making smart and responsible choices this festive season, we will once again show the world that we can flatten the curve in the Western Cape.