STATEMENT BY KZN PREMIER HON. MR SIHLE ZIKALALA ON THE OCCASION OF A MEDIA BRIEFING TO PROVIDE AN UPDATE ON COVID – 19 AND RELATED MATTERS, DURBAN, 20 DECEMBER 2020

KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Ravi Pillay

KZN MEC for Health, Hon. Ms Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu,

Government Officials Present,

Members of the Media,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME

We welcome you to this media briefing, which marks our first gathering since Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize officially announced the arrival of the second wave of COVID – 19 infections, on 09 December 2020.

 

CONDOLENCES TO THE FAMILY OF ESHOWE MAJOR, CLLR JEKE ZULU

We wish start by registering our shock and sadness at the passing of uMlalazi Mayor, Cllr Jeke Zulu, who passed away yesterday, after an illness. Cllr Zulu was a respected local government leader with unmatched work ethic and a sheer determination to change people’s lives for the better.  He held a profound understanding of the direct and immediate impact that municipal government can have on people, and made it a great priority to ensure that government served people, and not the other way around.  May his soul rest in peace, and his family, friends and all those who knew him be comforted and find strength at this time.

THE SECOND WAVE OF CORONAVIRUS IN KWAZULU-NATAL

This briefing comes in the midst of the December festive holiday season, which is like no other in living memory.

Traditionally, by now we would be in full celebratory mood, ready to bond with our families.  But this year’s festive season feels different to what we have previously been accustomed to.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, and the important new habits we have formed must shape our behaviour over the festive season.  Celebrating life and protecting the lives of those around us will be a major gift that we can give each other this festive season.

We find ourselves confronted by a resurgence of COVID – 19 in our country and province. Indeed, the second wave that we were warned about for the past few months, is here, and it is proving to be more deadly than we thought.

In recent days we find ourselves increasingly in mourning. This is a stark reminder that COVID – 19 is not on holiday; it is in fact, back with a vengeance.

Many people now know at least a few people who have passed away due to COVD – 19, which is cause for major concern, and a bitter pill to swallow.

What this means is that we need to embrace our New Normal, whereby all our actions are duly informed by the need to protect ourselves from acquiring and spreading COVID – 19 to others.

This therefore also means that it is not negotiable for us to adopt new ways of doing things in order to stay safe from the virus.

MOBILISING FOR ROAD SAFETY AND MONITORING COMPLIANCE WITH REGULATIONS

A few minutes ago, we concluded the road safety “Hoot for Life Arrive Alive campaign”, as well as the monitoring and inspections of various areas and public amenities for compliance with Covid-19 regulations by citizens and various establishment.

This campaign, which we undertook with the Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula and our MECs, has given us a first-hand impression of whether our citizens are heeding the warnings about the second wave or not. 

We must express satisfaction with the level of Covid-19 compliance by many establishments and outlets. 

Deeply concerning, though, is the behaviour of some individuals.

There is a high level of non-compliance with proper wearing of masks, which seems to be influenced by alcohol consumption and a high appetite for gatherings, especially in areas of entertainment that pose a high risk of being super spreaders - including the beaches.

We’ve also noted cell phone camera footage depicting scenes of overcrowding at beaches, and failure to wear masks by people swimming in rivers, and elsewhere.

We wish to remind citizens to conduct themselves responsibly. The wearing of masks is compulsory, and adhering to social distancing is absolutely necessary. So is the need to respect the 11pm to 4am curfew that has been put in place. Those who are intent on flouting safety regulations had better be warned: action will be taken against you.

We have resolved to intensify our monitoring efforts and get the law enforcement to effect arrests, where warranted.  We have intensified law enforcement. From the 01st to the 18th of December 2020 a total of 14 589 vehicles were stopped and inspected by our traffic officers. As a result, a total of 56 vehicles were suspended 130 unlicensed vehicles were discovered. In terms of fatalities, since 1-19 December 2020, the province has recorded 130 fatalities.  This is lower than the 159 fatalities recorded during the same period last year.

COMPLIANCE WITH LIQUOR TRADING LAWS

The KZN Liquor Authority, working with the SAPS and various municipalities, will now be increasing blitzes at various high risk areas across the province.

To date, we have undertaken a total of 44 Joint Law enforcement operations with the SAPS and the Liquor Authority in KZN.  During this time, 24 liquor licenses were suspended, while 13 more suspensions are in the process of being finalised.

The Liquor Authority has also noticed a surge in fraudulent liquor licences and has doubled efforts to clamp down on these. For example, in the last three months, 12 fraudulent licences were uncovered by the SA Police Services.

More operations will be conducted in this regard, in the festive season.

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COVID – 19 TRENDS AND ANALYSIS IN KWAZULU-NATAL

The Province of KwaZulu-Natal currently ranks as the fourth biggest contributor countrywide in terms of laboratory-confirmed cases, and has observed a substantial increase in the number of new cases in the past two weeks.

We are currently in week 51 of 2020. For week 50, the actual number of confirmed cases was 9 857, while for week 51, the numbers is 10 194. This marks a 4% increase of infections between week 50 & 51. Over the past week, the highest number of cases received was 2 912 on Saturday (1 December 2020), while the average number of cases recorded daily was 2 165 cases/day.

EThekwini District has continued to record the highest number of new cases daily, and contributes approximately half of the total laboratory-confirmed cases provincially.

The 5 Districts that are hardest hit in the Province by the second wave are as follows:

District

New cases

%. New cases

Total cases

%.Total cases

New deaths

Total deaths

%. Total deaths

Case Fatality rate (%)

EThekwini

1 625

66.6

75 080

49.5

38

1 811

49.8

2.4

ILembe

133

5.5

9 577

6.3

7

142

3.9

1.5

UMgungundlovu

103

4.2

18 541

12.2

2

472

13.0

2.5

UGu

242

9.9

7 493

4.9

6

168

4.6

2.2

Harry Gwala

42

1.7

3 640

2.4

4

99

2.7

2.7

 

DEATHS

We are concerned at the fact that the province is experiencing an increase in the number of COVID – 19 related deaths reported daily. The actual number of deaths, which occurred during week 50, was 68 and for week 51 it was 111. We must hasten to add that these are cumulative numbers – not numbers reported on a single day.

The Case Fatality rate for the province was 2.4%, while the mortality rate was 32 deaths per 100 000 population. EThekwini District (46 deaths per 100 000) and Amajuba District (43 deaths per 100 000) have the highest mortality rate in the province.

HOME DEATHS

The province has also experienced an increase in the number of home deaths. We once again appeal to the public to rather come to our facilities

 

 

HOME DEATHS

The province has also experienced an increase in the number of home deaths. On Thursday, 17 December 2020, the province received 22 home deaths. This means that the Province now has 142 (or 3%) of deaths that occurred at home since the beginning of the pandemic.

We send our deepest condolences to the families of the dearly departed.

POSITIVITY RATE

The number of cases testing positive in the past two weeks increased from 15.0% to 24.5%.

INFECTED HEALTH CARE WORKERS

A total of 7 891 health care workers (HCWs) have been infected with COVID-19 in the public sector since the beginning of the pandemic. Of the total infected, 91 (or 1%) sadly succumbed to the disease. The majority of the infected health care workers (IHCW) were nurses (56%). The number of infected Health Care Workers has increased by 449 (or 6%) in the past seven days.

RECOVERIES

The overall proportion of recoveries for the province continues to decline (at 82%). This decline is consistent with an increase in the number of new cases and the incidence risk.

 

NEW STRAIN OF COVID – 19:

As per an announcement by the Health Minister, a new variant strain of COVID - 19 has been discovered in 3 Provinces including KZN. At this stage, there is no clear evidence that this new variant is a more severe form of COVID – 19 or may result in worse outcomes. However, clinicians are currently undertaking more studies to establish if this new variant does change the course of the disease.  We are, however, deeply concerned at the rate of infection and the increase numbers of deaths. This calls for all of us to sit up, take note, and change how we do things.

 

STATE OF PREPAREDNESS FOR THE SECOND WAVE:  PUBLIC SECTOR HOSPITAL BEDS

The Province has developed a resurgence plan and a festive holiday plan, both of which are based on the lessons learnt during first wave of COVID - 19.

At the cornerstone of these plans is health education, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing. We are focusing on encouraging fellow compatriots to wear their masks, wash their hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing.

We have suspended major events and we are clamping down on non-compliance with regulations.  We also planning to shut down and effect arrests on those organising super-spreader events.

We therefore appeal to the public to avoid attending super-spreader events, including weddings, traditional ceremonies, and sporting activities, as they have proven to increase the transmission of the virus. 

This is no time to fool ourselves. We are shedding enough tears already.

We also want to dispel the notion that our Health Care facilities are beginning to succumb.  Yes, the health care facilities are experiencing high demand, but the system has not collapsed due to pressure. It is up to all of us to ensure that we do not get to that stage.

 

The Department of Health has prepared a total of 3367 beds in public health facilities in response to the second wave. Out of the 3367 beds prepared, 147 are ICU beds.   We once again appeal for people to stop spreading fake news and create unnecessary public apprehension.  The government will remain open and transparent with citizens at all times.

 

CONTRACTS FOR STAFF EMPLOYED TO HELP THE PROVINCE DEAL WITH COVID – 19:

Our efforts remain fortified by the presence of staff who were employed for the COVID-19 first wave. We are happy that their contracts have been extended, so that they can assist us to respond adequately to the second wave.

 

COVID CLUSTER CASES:

The Province has recorded a number of clusters in the health care settings, church gatherings, retails shops, funerals, ceremonies and parties.  The recent cluster outbreaks in gatherings have proven to be fatal such as a church gathering that took place in Assisi Convent in Ugu District, which saw 6 nuns sadly succumb to COVID-19.

Another gathering was in Kwasizabantu in Umzinyathi district, which was attended by more than 2000 people!!! And I repeat: 2000 people. It is unthinkable.

It is hardly surprising that at least 48 of the attendees have now since tested positive. We once again wish to issue a warning to our fellow compatriots that we are now confronted by a dangerous outbreak of Covid-19 in KZN. We appeal that everyone acts responsibly.

 

HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS/ISOLATIONS

As of the 18th December 2020, a total of 717 patients were admitted for COVID-19; and 1274 were admitted as persons under investigation in public health facilities.

As of the 18th December 2020, the Private hospitals in KZN had 1506 patients admitted, with the majority being in Ethekwini, with 1008 patients.

The Department has a total of 775 ventilators and 915 non –invasive ventilators (CPAPs and BIPAPs). Some hospitals in the Private sector have been under pressure in terms of bed availability, but the Department has prepared enough beds. The situation is being reviewed on daily basis, and additional beds will be made available if a need arises.

The Department has not activated beds in private facilities for patients under investigation, but will do so if the need arises. The current turnaround time for the analysis of COVID tests with the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) is 72 hours.

CONTACT TRACING:

The Department is implementing a number of strategies in dealing with contact tracing, including:

  • The targeted screening and testing of contacts in areas that are deemed hotspots;
  • The activation of district call centres to do telephone monitoring of contacts; and
  • The activation of additional contact tracing teams.

 

 

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE TOURISM SECTOR

We expect about a 62% decline in domestic tourism in 2020, compared to 2019. This represents about 2.3million trips in 2020 versus the 6.2 million trips recorded in 2019. The estimated spend will be R3.6bn compared to R8bn in 2019. The tourism sector is expected to recover to 2019 levels by 2022/23.

For the 2020 festive season (December 2020 to January 2021) we are forecasting that we will receive between 600 000 and 750 000 domestic visitors. In 2019 there were about 815 000 domestic visitors for both December 2019 and January 2020. 

Following the announcement of more restrictions, including the closure of beaches and public parks on certain days, a survey was conducted on 144 accommodation establishments across the province. This was to establish the impact of the announcement on the tourism and hospitality sectors. Of those interviewed, 59% establishments reported to have received cancellations for the festive season period.

 

LATEST PROJECTED HOTEL OCCUPANCY

 

It must be noted, however, that the closure of beaches and public parks on certain days was not the only reason for the cancellations. Some of these cancellations were due to “anti-travel” anxieties due to the increase in COVID cases. Furthermore, some people have also cancelled their holiday as they have contracted the virus and cannot travel. Trends show that more and more visitors are opting to stay with friends and at Air B&B facilities.

  • Ethekwini – Projected 25% reduction in occupancies since beach closures, from 70 to 55%
  • Ilembe -  Projected 20% reduction in occupancies since beach closures, from 100% to 80%
  • Ugu – occupancy is at 80 %
  • uMgungundlovu – occupancy is between 45% to 50%
  • uMkhanyakude District – 100% fully booked and was not affected by the beach restrictions
  • Zululand – was sitting at 45% occupancy
  • Amajuba – 45% to 50% occupancy
  • Drakensberg establishments in uThukela have reported 100% occupancy from this week until the 5th of January. It has moved from 80% occupancy. It is interesting to note that the Berg has been receiving more late bookings than normal. This indicates that those who had initially wanted to visit the coast have changed to inland.
  • Battlefields establishments in uThukela are at 80%.
  • Ezemvelo – projecting a 5% drop from 42% to 37% occupancy

 

The KwaZulu-Natal government is, however, in full support of the latest restrictions as announced by the President recently. We believe these restrictions strike a healthy balance between our number one priority of saving lives, and the need to stimulate our economic activity.

 

COMPLIANCE INSPECTIONS AT BUSINESSES OPERATIONS

The Department of Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), working with other departments such as the Department of Labour and the SAPS, has been conducting inspections at various businesses in the province. Businesses inspected for compliance with Covid-19 regulations include supermarkets, factories, gym facilities and banks. These spot checks will be done on a continuous basis. We will not hesitate to take action against those who are found to be flouting the rules.

 

CONCLUSION,

We wish to make a renewed call to the public to partner with us as Government, as we try our utmost to navigate our way out of this deadly second wave of COVID – 19. The only way that we will make it out of this is through taking personal ownership of the responsibility that we all have, which is to avoid acquiring and/or transmitting the virus to others. It is individuals that transport and help the virus to travel.  The success we have made in the first wave can easily become our failure.  The worst has not passed, it is still with us.  But we now have more information and knowledge about the virus than before. What we see as the challenge or a key question is whether are we disciplined enough to adhere to the warnings that will save our lives and those of our loved ones. We ask of pastors, traditional leaders, mayors, councillors, community leaders and every citizen to play their part and prohibit activities that may super spread the virus. 

We can do it. Making a difference starts with you and I. 

Thank you