Stay safe during SA’s next COVID-19 surge

Posted on 11 January 2021

As we face another surge in the spread of coronavirus disease, many of the lessons we learnt in March 2020 still apply. Now is the time for renewed vigilance. 

Shortly before Christmas 2020, South Africans were hit with a dose of bad news: testing stations in the Eastern Cape and along the Western Cape’s Garden Route had begun reporting a sudden, steady and significant increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

From the moment those numbers began to climb, Mediclinic hospitals were ready to manage a sharp increase in the number of new patients presenting with symptoms of coronavirus disease, and to manage the expected knock-on effect on the availability of equipment and staff workloads.

These lessons have been hard-learnt, but they are valuable. “COVID-19 has required hospitals all over the world to learn on their feet, and this is something we are accustomed to,” says Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Chief Clinical Officer: Mediclinic Southern Africa. “This is a changing situation, and at Mediclinic we pride ourselves on our learning culture. So with everything we have learnt since the first wave, we are now even more equipped and more ready to respond quickly.”

Procurement of essential equipment, for example, as well as access control measures, infection prevention and control measures and intensive staff training programmes – these were learning curves that have been diligently adopted in Mediclinic hospitals.

One of those measures is the suspension of elective surgeries in affected regions. “Each year over the festive season, we find there is a natural decrease in the number of elective surgeries in our hospitals, as a result of both the public and our doctors heading off on holiday. So to suspend these surgeries made perfect sense, for at least until this surge has subsided.”

The good news: anyone who requires emergency surgery or other urgent procedures – if you have a stroke, for example, or if you are about to deliver a baby – will be received and treated as per usual, at any Mediclinic hospital nationwide.

The second increase in new COVID-19 cases was far sharper than the first wave, says Dr De Villiers. As of 3 January 2021, there were 1 100 748 positive reported cases across the country, with over 6 742 853 tests having been conducted. Between the resources provided by private and state pathology facilities, there is capacity to perform between 40 000 and 50 000 tests per day.

Mediclinic has learnt a great deal about the disease and how to reduce and prevent its transmission in the 9 months since the COVID-19 outbreak was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020, says Dr De Villiers.

“All patients are tested upon admission at our hospitals,” he explains, “in order to coordinate and separate groups of positive and negative patients, and mitigate the risk of anyone acquiring an infection in the hospital. Our hospital management teams and staff members are also by now well-versed in the art of using personal protective equipment (PPE) and environmental cleaning measures, and these protocols have been reinforced and reiterated in all our facilities to further manage the risk of transmission.”

Mediclinic is actively recruiting new staff and reallocating staff between hospitals where possible, and even other provinces, to better manage the effects of an increased workload. These contingency plans help hospital management plan for sudden shortages, in case of an outbreak, while maintaining our customary high standard of clinical patient care.

It is important to note that while Mediclinic hospitals’ high care and intensive care units in these affected regions are under strain, the majority of patients are admitted to general wards and receive the appropriate care without needing high-flow oxygen or ventilation systems.

This means two things: first, as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases has reiterated, about 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, and the vast majority of people can stay at home and get better without hospital treatment.

Second, it means the challenge to beat this new surge of COVID-19 cases is in all of our hands. Prevention is always preferable to the cure, says Dr De Villiers. “Non-pharmaceutical interventions are the most effective, and the easiest to implement – we are talking about some fairly simple behavioural changes. If we can make it a habit to think about where our hands have been, and how close we are to other people, we can keep the spread of this disease to a manageable level.”

Remember these 7 simple steps to prevent the transmission of COVID-19:

  1. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  4. Avoid closed or poorly ventilated areas.
  5. Cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.
  6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  7. Always wear a face mask when in public spaces, as indicated by regulations.



Published in Business