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NC set to drop to Level 3


Despite the Frances Baard District being flagged as one of the top 25 areas for Covid-19 in the country, the Northern Cape is likely to drop to Level 3 or lower as the lockdown is eased.

DESPITE the Frances Baard District being flagged as one of the top 25 areas for Covid-19 in the country, the Northern Cape is likely to drop to Level 3 or lower as the lockdown is eased.

This is according to a presentation by the national Department of Health to the National Command Council this week, which outlines proposed plans for the easing of the lockdown.

The Department of Health, in its presentation, has recommended that the current generalised lockdown be eased to Level 3 for those districts that do not have hot spots.

At Level 3, there will be vigilance and close monitoring of areas of infection.

High-risk areas will be classified as hot spots and these will remain at Level 4 with intensive implementation of screening, testing and restrictions.

In two weeks the districts will be reviewed again with a view to classifying districts across the five alert levels. It is anticipated that there will be districts that are at levels 1 to 5.

There will be continued caution, including self-quarantine as appropriate for those over 60 years old or those with a high risk of chronic comorbidities.

The Department of Health has recommended that with the easing of the lockdown, routine health services should be fully opened and run full services to catch up childhood immunisations, contraceptive services, antenatal care, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis and HIV, and management of chronic diseases.

Workplaces should be allowed to reopen with protocols tailored to prevent outbreaks in sector-specific work environments, such as factories, businesses, retail outlets and farms.

Schools and universities should be reopened in a systematic manner promoting risk mitigation with social distancing, hand sanitising etc.

Public transport should be opened with steps to avoid overcrowding and ensuring good ventilation.

The department has, however, recommended careful planning for the safe resumption of high-risk activities and businesses – such as air travel, large gatherings (religious and cultural events, music concerts, sports events), hair and beauty salons, gyms, pubs, clubs and shebeens – with risk mitigation protocols.

Districts that currently have less than five active cases per 100 000 population should be “under vigilance”. “Key interventions that should be practised by these districts include all the items in the prevention toolbox, plus close monitoring of cases.”

The Frances Baard District currently has the highest number of cases in the Northern Cape per 100 000 population, with 2.68.

According to the presentation plan, districts with clusters with rapidly increasing cases will be designated as hot spots. These districts will be subdivided into sub-districts or wards. Teams of health experts will be deployed to analyse and support the district to implement enhanced activities to contain transmission (test, isolate, quarantine, treat).

Multi-disciplinary teams will also be deployed to support the implementation of any restrictions that may be necessary to contain the spread (including curbing the movement of people).

A hard lockdown will only be considered if all other measures fail to contain the spread of the virus.

The Minister of Health will identify the alert levels for each district, taking into account the burden of active cases, trends in the active cases and the health system’s capacity to respond to the disease burden.

The Provincial Command Council must consider these levels and submit provincial plans to contain the spread of the epidemic including health measures, economic activity, restrictions on movement and social services.

The Minister of Health will present to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) the proposed alert level per district with the provincial plans to contain the infections.

The NCCC must confirm an alert level and monitor the provincial plans to contain the infection.

Measures that will remain in place at all levels include social distancing (the specific interventions to implement this principle will be contained in the workplace/sector plans), hand sanitising available at all public places, the use of cloth masks outside of the home and the elderly and those with comorbidities to remain at home.

There will also be no public gatherings including sports events, concerts, nightclubs, bars, cinemas, etc.

In summary, the plan will entail the swift, phased easing of the lockdown with the resumption of economic activity under conditions that provide simultaneous mitigation of risk.

It will also see the implementation of intensive measures in hot spots to reduce the risk of repeated closures of institutions as outbreaks continue to increase. These districts will remain at Level 4.

All other districts will move to Level 3.

There will be vigilance in low-risk districts and fortnightly re-assessment of risk levels with the potential to move to Level 2 and 1 in certain districts.

Provincial command councils will submit plans on the effective management and co-ordination of districts, based at the various alert levels.

Risk mitigation will be based on the appropriate use of combinations of interventions from the coronavirus prevention toolbox.

In the presentation it was pointed out that the number of cases of Covid-19 is rising sharply and will continue to rise, as will the number of deaths. “The country is far from safe from the damaging effects of the virus.”

It was stated, however, that there was a need to balance the benefits of the hard lockdown with the challenges that it presents. These include lack of income, hunger, economic downturn and social distress (weddings, funerals, religious events).

“The hard lockdown is no longer sustainable in its current form and needs to be readjusted,” the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, says in the presentation.