It was expected that Limpopo, being a largely rural province still battling to shake off its legacy of past neglect under apartheid, would be among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the province has managed to weather the storm reasonably well and on Thursday Premier Chupu Mathabatha stepped up the battle with the official launch of a COVID-19 high-care hospital to act as a standby for patients who may need intensive care in the province.
The facility, located in Modimolle in the Waterberg district, was expanded from a multiple drug resistant TB treatment centre to a COVID-19 facility that will house 89 critically ill patients.
At least 27 of the 89 beds will be used for patients who require ventilators, while the rest will focus on those that need high-flow oxygen.
Addressing the staff at the facility, Mathabatha said that the hospital was meant to ease the burden of other hospitals in dealing with patients who may need high care.
“As the provincial command council [PCC], we planned that the little resources that we have must be used in such a way that we optimise its returns by expanding such a facility,” he said.
He said that roping in the private sector to help with the fight was a step in the right direction.
“Our projections have been right all along, and we knew that having facilities and resources such as this one will assist in helping us fight this invisible enemy,” Mathabatha said. The facility had initially, since the outbreak of the pandemic, been used as an isolation centre for those who had tested positive.
According to the Department of Health, the province has a baseline of 54 ICU beds. As part of the plan to cope with the surge in positive cases, the high-care beds will be increased to 310 in the whole province. The province currently has 32 beds at the Pietersburg Hospital in Polokwane, which has now been supplemented by the new centre.
Mathabatha emphasised the necessity for the facility, describing it as a “silver lining” as it would continue to function as a tropical disease hospital after the pandemic has been beaten.
“This is a different episode in our lifetime, which needs to be taken seriously. So we have come up with mechanisms to counter it and the facility is one of those measures.”
Although the positive cases continue to surge, the province boasts the third-lowest positive cases in the country. The province recorded 356 new cases in one day on Thursday, the day the facility was launched. The total figure of positive cases stood at 5 740 with 64 deaths.
“We initially implemented a pushback strategy when this thing started and that pushback strategy assisted in a big way because it made our people aware of how dangerous this disease was,” Mathabatha said.
“When our people saw the blue lights coming to the villages to warn them about the virus and people were made aware and some were even mobilised, because we started seeing community-based structures also entering the fray, assisting us to fight this battle. I can assure you, given the figures in the province currently, the active cases and those who are actually recovering show us that the end is within reach.” He added that such problems needed permanent solutions because of financial challenges. “We cannot afford temporary hospitals. We want to use the resources we have optimally. We are going to develop the existing facilities and we are going to take advantage of this virus to assist us to do that.” However, Mathabatha warned those who were targeting funds meant for the fight against the pandemic to line their own pockets that they would be jailed.
“All the money that comes into the province for this virus will be utilised in such a way that we don’t want to even lose a cent to corruption. As the PCC, we have developed specific measures to ensure that on the minimal chance that a corrupt person may have of using these facilities or resources for corrupt purposes, that person is arrested immediately.”
He urged the public to continue practising social distancing, sanitising and wearing masks.
“In this winter very few people are catching ordinary flu because we are all wearing masks. The flu virus is airborne so why are we therefore not making wearing masks a new normal?”
Mathabatha expressed gratitude to all the health workers who had dedicated themselves to their work: “Thank you to our frontline soldiers and our last line of defence. There is nothing in life that is better than being recognised and being patriotic. Your country will always remain indebted to you.”
The facility is equipped with ventilators donated by the US government and will be operated by one of the Cuban doctors selected by health MEC Phophi Ramathuba. In April, more than 200 Cuban doctors arrived in South Africa to help battle the spread of the Coronavirus.
“Scientists are saying we are going to live with this virus for a very long time, but we are ready for it with an understanding of how we are going to deal with it,” Mathabatha concluded.
A total of 6 343 people have died from the virus by Friday night with 33 of those registered in Limpopo, which also had 3 022 recoveries. The province has also partnered with the De Beers Venetia Mine in Musina to establish a testing laboratory in the province.
Thank you to our frontline soldiers and our last line of defence. There is nothing in life that is better than being recognised and being patriotic. Your country will always remain indebted to you
Captions Top Pic: Premier Chupu Mathabatha is joined by health MEC Phophi Ramathuba at the launch of the facility.
Bottom pic: The premier has expressed his gratitude to all the health workers who have dedicated themselves to taking care of the patients.