Statement by Premier Alan Winde at his weekly Digital Press Conference

“The Garden Route has peaked and on sustained decline” 

At this week’s digital press conference, the Western Cape Government confirmed that the Garden Route District has passed its peak and is now on a sustained downward trajectory.  

This district, which was the first to experience the major surge in cases, associated with the new variant in this second wave, is experiencing a decline in both cases and hospitalisations.  

The critical care capacity in the Garden Route district, however, still remains under pressure, and there was a week-on-week increase in deaths in this district.  

With the exception of the West Coast District, which remains on an upward trajectory (although slower) all rural districts are showing signs of stabilisation, and we are waiting to see whether the slower relay of data over public holidays is the reason for this and whether the pattern holds in the week ahead.  

In the Cape Metro, while all subdistricts have not shown increases, we must be extremely cautious in drawing conclusions at this stage, given the change in testing criteria in the metro specifically. We will be closely watching the City of Cape over the next week to determine if the trend continues.  

It is however promising to note a significant decrease in the Western sub-district within the Metro, which has showed a 35% drop in cases. This district was one of the first to experience the second wave, and it might be an early sign that the area has reached its peak. This would then point to a similar trend emerging in other sub-districts soon. 

Together this points to the Western Cape nearing a peak of the second wave, and very early signs of stabilisation – although it is still early to be certain. 

“Western Cape Government making more capacity available to relieve pressure on health platform” 

With that said, our healthcare system still remains under extreme pressure, as this new, more transmissible variant has resulted in significantly more hospitalisations than was experienced in the first wave.  

Our health care workers are tired and exhausted, especially after this very difficult year. 

To ensure we can manage this pressure, we have made available more beds for COVID-19 patients. 

Across the Western Cape, our public sector capacity has 7537 acute beds, excluding specialised beds at psychiatric hospitals, TB hospitals, Red Cross Hospital and the Mowbray Maternity Clinic. This also includes general and critical care beds for COVID-19 patients.  

We have provisioned for 685 inter-mediate COVID-19 care beds, which is broken down as follows: 

  • 336 beds at the Brackengate Hospital of Hope, which was opened towards end of first wave (21 July 2020), and kept open for a second wave.  
  • 200 beds at the Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope, which became operational on 1 January 2021. The bed capacity is up from the originally planned 187. It is on grounds of Lentegeur Hospital and includes repurposed beds and new beds, with new infrastructure enhancements to allow for high flow nasal oxygen. It is run like a field hospital with a facility manager. 
  • 60 beds at the Freesia Ward at Lentegeur Hospital, refurbished with assistance of Gift of Givers, and which was opened towards end of first wave.  
  • 30 beds at Ward 99 in Lentegeur Hospital. This was opened after the peak of the first wave and had very low occupancy. It was retained in preparation for a second wave. 
  • 59 beds at the Sonstraal Hospital, which was prepared and opened after the first wave peak, and which had low occupancy. These beds were retained in preparation for a second wave. 

In addition, 72 acute beds were added to rural hospitals, as this was their main capacity requirement. The breakdown is as follows: 

  • 20 beds in Vredendal
  • 32 beds in Hermanus
  • 20 beds in George

The Western Cape Government has also made provision to make available 136 intermediate care beds, should the staffing be available, and the need arise.  

This additional capacity is helping relieve some pressure, but our platform remains under pressure, especially in the critical care wards. We are also experiencing significantly more deaths in the second wave than we did in the first wave. 

  • We currently have 3290 COVID-19 patients in our acute hospitals, 2052 in public hospitals and 1238 in private hospitals.  
  • The Metro hospitals, excluding field hospitals, are running at an average occupancy of 99%.  
  • The George drainage area hospitals running at 65% occupancy.  
  • Paarl drainage area hospitals at 70% capacity occupancy.  
  • The Worcester drainage area hospitals at 75% occupancy.  
  • COVID-19 and PUI cases currently make up 33% of all available acute general hospital capacity.  
  • The Hospital of Hope (Brackengate) has 307 patients – total capacity of 336. 
  • The Hospital of Hope (Mitchells Plain) has 64 patients – total capacity will rise to 200. 
  • Freesia Ward and Ward 99 at Lentegeur Hospital have 54 patients – total capacity of 90. 
  • Sonstraal Hospital has 34 patients – total capacity of 59. 

The Western Cape Department of Health runs its entire health capacity as a single platform, allowing for patients to be moved from busy hospitals to less busy hospitals, and therefore the response should be viewed as a single system.  

To assist with this: 

  • We have erected tents at Khayelitsha and Wesfleur where admissions and discharges will be managed. Similar tents will be erected at the Hospital of Hope at Brackengate, Mitchell’s Plain, Helderberg, Eerste River and Karl Bremmer.   
  • EMS and the Department of Transport and Public Works taxi service have implemented a streamlined transport system to assist with inter-facility transfers and rapid discharges in order to optimise capacity.   
  • Our data team has developed a dashboard where we can track available hospital bed capacity daily, which will be linked to available staffing and oxygen capacity in order to give us a full and detailed picture of our response.   

“The Western Cape has secured additional supply of oxygen to ensure we have adequate capacity for our peak” 

The major increase in hospitalisations has resulted in significantly higher oxygen usage in the Western Cape than was experienced in the first wave.  

The combined oxygen utilisation in the Western Cape, including both public and private hospitals, is 76.4 tons.  

Given this usage, the public and private sector and military hospitals would exceed available supply from Afrox. Contingency plans have been put in place to ensure that this supply has been increased to 95 tons per day. This includes 5 bulk oxygen tankers delivering oxygen this week.  

“Recruitment drive starting to gain momentum, as more health care workers employed in Western Cape; military to provide capacity support in Western Cape” 

The Western Cape’s recruitment drive for health care workers, which aims to recruit over 1300 health care workers to assist our platform, has now resulted in 558 applications. As a result, 485 offers have been made, and the first 80 started on 4 January 2021. 

All applicants have been processed and appointments are being made in a staggered manner. 

The appointments include doctors, nurses, allied health workers, pharmacists, social workers and some admin-related staff. 

We thank all those applicants and encourage you to share the recruitment drive information with any unemployed health care worker. The information can be found here: https://coronavirus.westerncape.gov.za/covid-19-recruitment-drive

“Thank you to the people of the Western Cape for assisting drive down trauma cases in our hospitals” 

On behalf of the Western Cape Government, I would like to thank the public for their responsible behaviour on New Year’s Eve and the first week of this new year. 

Although COVID-19 cases continue to cause extreme pressure, the drop in trauma cases (related specifically to violence and car crashes) ensured that our health facilities could better manage the load of COVID-19 patients. 

This has meant our health care workers have been able to manage a significant workload, especially as they are stretched thin and exhausted.  

We owe it to these hard working and passionate frontline workers to keep on staying safe, so that we can prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, and so we can save the lives of our friends and loved ones.