I believe that it would be extremely dangerous to praise low levels of confirmed laboratory cases as some sort of an achievement right now, when we know the situation is different in reality, writes Alan Winde.
Over the past week I have been asked many questions about why the Western Cape is the “epicentre” of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
Understandably some people are worried that because we have more laboratory confirmed cases than other provinces, we have done something wrong.
On the contrary, these statistics show that we are doing something right – and this is precisely what the rest of the country should be doing to stop the spread.
Firstly, it is important to address this “epicentre” narrative head-on, as it has failed to take into consideration a number of important points.
The?Western Cape government has adopted a much more rigorous approach toward actively locating cases, tracking and tracing contacts and conducting targeted screening and testing in identified clusters.
Epidemiological evidence tells us where the cluster transmissions are taking place, and this is where we relentlessly train our focus with both screening and testing.
This active case finding approach strategy means the Western Cape has a far higher success rate in locating and fighting the “bushfires”.?
When someone screens positively, through a detailed questionnaire (often taking more than 5 minutes to complete), they are then referred for testing.
This naturally means that for every series of tests, we are receiving a higher proportion of positives.
Dr Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director General of the Department of Health, agreed that this active and targeted approach to testing in the Western Cape is better than mass testing, and that this strategy was “clever”.
Of the quarter of a million people we have screened by 1 May 2020, over 8 600 have been referred for testing because of this targeted “hunting in a pack” approach.
In total, more than 37?000 tests have been conducted in our province to date.
It is also important to remember that there are more people infected with Covid-19 than is officially recorded.
Indeed, the numbers of cases publicised by the national Minister of Health each day are just those confirmed in a laboratory and submitted to the NICD and the national Department of Health.
While we cannot speak for the strategies of other provinces, our strategy is to identify and test every person?who we suspect of being?Covid-19 positive and to confirm this in a laboratory.?
We want the truth on the ground to be as closely aligned to our own records, because this gives us the information we need to fight and defeat Covid-19.
For example, knowing exactly who is infected by Covid-19 allows us to ensure that the person isolates and that we can trace the contacts of this person to start the process all over again.
This is how you “flatten the curve”.
Our government would be extremely worried (and every resident should be too) if the number of?laboratory confirmed?cases in the Western Cape were not growing right now, because it would mean our systems are not working in identifying every person who is Covid-19 positive.
The reality is, as our national government pointed out, the peak of infections is still to come and?it is not avoidable.
The lockdown has allowed us time to prepare, but many, many people are going to be infected across the country.
We need to identify and test every person who does and should therefore expect the number of laboratory confirmed cases to rise in the coming weeks.
Secondly, I must be clear: this is not a competition. We are all part of the national effort to stop the spread and to get through this challenging time as a country.
I believe that it would be extremely dangerous to praise low levels of confirmed laboratory cases as some sort of an achievement right now, when we know the situation is different in reality.
This would severely undermine our country’s efforts to “flatten the curve”.
We should rather be incentivising the active case finding approach to testing and screening, even if this means the number of laboratory confirmed cases grow in our provinces.
In doing this, we must be fully transparent and open with our people.
The value of this was shown when Professor Salim Abdool Karim took South Africa into his confidence. We are so grateful to have brilliant experts like this across our country.
For our part, transparency and openness has been a core pillar of strategy from the very beginning, and we will continue to share our data with the public so that they are well informed and so that they can help us curb the spread.
A dedicated dashboard updated daily exists on our website for this purpose.
And yes, it will not always paint a pretty picture.
But we all deserve to know what the reality is in our communities, towns and cities.
I believe that every person in our province is responsible and wants to make a difference. Let’s trust them with the evidence they need to change their behaviour and help us through this time.
Lastly, we are doing everything we can to prepare for the peak that will still come.
But we cannot do it alone. We need your help to flatten the curve and to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
This will save lives.
So, please keep your distance from others at all times. Stay home if you can, and if you must leave the house for work or to buy food, always wear a cloth mask.
Do not touch your face with unwashed hands, and please, please, always follow all the golden rules of good hygiene.
I am so grateful for the dedication that so many people across the Western Cape have shown over the past five weeks.
Let’s dig deep and keep up the hard work. Together let’s stop the spread.
– Alan Winde is Premier of the Western Cape