Oxygen runs low as COVID-19 surges in South Africa

News

Oxygen runs low as COVID-19 surges in South Africa

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The coronavirus storm has arrived in South Africa, but in the overflowing COVID-19 wards the sound is less of a roar than a rasp.

Medical oxygen is low in hospitals at the new epicentre of the outbreak, Gauteng province, home to the power centres of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, visiting a hospital yesterday, said authorities are working with industry to divert more oxygen their way.

Some patients spilled into heated tents in the hospital parking lot. They lay under blankets in the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, with a cold front bringing freezing temperatures this weekend.

“The patients are scared, very, very scared,” said Lynne Wilkinson, a public health specialist who is part of a volunteer effort seeking 100 oxygen concentrators for a 450-bed field hospital in Johannesburg.

But sourcing the portable, low-volume devices is a problem because they're bought up by the private sector, even individuals, she told The Associated Press: “They keep them at home.”

South Africa overnight posted another record daily high of confirmed cases, 13,674, as Africa's most developed country is a new global hot spot with 238,339 cases overall. More than a third are in Gauteng.

“The storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving,” said Mkhize.

A nurse at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital — the third-largest hospital in the world with more than 3,000 beds — painted a bleak picture, saying new patients with the virus are now being admitted into ordinary wards as the COVID-19 ones are full.

“Our hospital is overloaded already. There has been an influx of patients over the last two weeks,” the nurse said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to give interviews.

More and more colleagues at the hospital are testing positive daily for the virus, the nurse said, “even people who are not working in COVID wards”.

Already more than 8,000 health workers across Africa have been infected — half of them in South Africa.

How the country struggles to manage the pandemic will be amplified in other nations across Africa, which has the world's lowest levels of health funding and health staffing.

The continent as of yesterday had 541,381 confirmed cases, but shortages in testing material mean the real number is unknown.

South Africa's surge in cases comes as the country loosens what had been one of the world's strictest lockdowns, with even alcohol sales banned until June 1. Now restaurants have sit-down service and religious gatherings have resumed. The economy was hurting and needed reopening, authorities said.

But nervous officials in Gauteng province have called for stricter lockdown measures to return. Yesterday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced he had tested positive with mild symptoms.

“We must double our efforts,” he said in a statement, urging people to wear face masks, wash their hands and distance themselves.

Warning signs keep flashing. Hospital beds in all provinces could be full within the month, the health minister said this week. Yesterday he said a team is looking at 2,000 additional beds for field hospitals in Gauteng.

In addition to the bed shortage, many hospitals are grappling with limited oxygen supplies to treat patients with the respiratory disease.

Eight hundred new beds will be built at the field hospital in Johannesburg, and the health minister said the facility would receive 1,000 “oxygen points”. But that will take weeks, said Wilkinson, the public health specialist.

Guy Richards, director of clinical care at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, told the AP they are extremely worried.

“Even a big hospital like ours has difficulty supplying sufficient amounts of oxygenation for our patients. The same thing is happening at Helen Joseph (Hospital), and this is a major problem,” he said.

Tshwane District Hospital, which the health minister visited yesterday, is now devoted completely to COVID-19 patients, said Veronica Ueckermann, head of the COVID-19 response team at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, which includes Tshwane District Hospital.

“Currently we are stretched but we are still coping in terms of our wards, our sisters and doctors are working extremely hard,” added Ueckermann.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT