By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Health experts have criticised the government's response to the second wave of Covid-19 in South Africa, saying that officials were warned about the poor state of hospitals in the country, but ended up not doing enough to improve the situation.
Now South Africa sits with hospitals nearing capacity amid record increases in Covid infections, while health workers suffer the brunt of the second wave – exhausted, under-equipped, and many succumbing to the virus themselves.
Hospitals are now less prepared to deal with the pandemic than during the first wave, the experts said.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, health experts at the Progressive Health Forum said that an audit was done showing that South Africa's hospitals were grossly underprepared to deal with the second wave of Covid-19, and now the government is performing a 'frantic cover-up' of its failure to heed warnings since September.
The only province that has responded to calls for improvements since September/October was the Western Cape, where the local government performed its own audits and used its own channels to make the upgrades, it said.
With hospitals under-equipped and healthcare workers buckling under the pressure, the country's only hope is a successful vaccine rollout, the forum said – something it said the government has already messed up.
Meanwhile South Africa may have to wait months to receive its first vaccines even as other countries race to roll out the shots.
The government only expects vaccines that it paid a deposit to secure from the World Health Organization's Covax program to arrive in the second quarter of 2021, according to president Cyril Ramaphosa.
The wait bodes ill for a country that’s confronting a new more virulent strain of the virus, record new infections and a populace that’s increasingly eschewed social distancing.
Talks with drug companies about supplementing South Africa’s Covax allocation are ongoing, however it is unclear when or whether those shots will be made available, with several wealthy nations having already prepaid to pin down most of the initial production.
"With a lot of advanced purchasing of vaccines, it will be hard to jump the queues in trying to secure earlier vaccine doses," said Stavros Nicolaou, an executive at Aspen Pharmacare.
The Solidarity Fund, which was established to support the government’s pandemic response and is backed by some of the country's biggest companies and richest individuals, paid the initial R283 million ($19.3 million) Covax deposit.
It will cost a total of R2.7 billion for South Africa to secure its full allocation of six million doses from the facility – sufficient to cover about 10% of the population.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said that South Africa recorded another 15,002 cases of Covid-19 as at 2 January 2021, taking the country’s total to 1,088,889, with 29,175 deaths.
Recoveries have climbed to 897,704, leaving a balance of 162,010 active cases in the country.