South Africa is not doing enough coronavirus tests

April 13, 2020
Posted in Article
April 13, 2020 Tumelo Moloi

A shortage of COVID-19 test kits and the country’s inability to test more people are hurting the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

This is according to Rapport, which cited comments made by the Department of Health’s acting director-general Anban Pillay.

Pillay told Parliament that not enough tests are being done to get a real picture of the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa.

Rapport added that the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) confirmed that test kits ordered three weeks ago from the USA had not arrived in the country yet.

These tests kits are needed to increase South Africa’s daily testing capability from 5,000 to 30,000 per day.

Low number of new coronavirus cases

Since the national lockdown started, the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa has plummeted.

The number of new daily coronavirus cases peaked at 243 on 27 March. It then dropped suddenly.

Lately, there has not been one day where the new confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 100, and yesterday there were only 25 new cases – one of the lowest daily increases over the last month.

These low numbers were not anticipated and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize previously said they expected between 4,000 and 5,000 cases by around 2 April.

Mkhize put the lower-than-expected infection rate down to closing South Africa’s borders quickly, quarantining inbound travellers, enforcing a lockdown, and preventing mass gatherings.

According to Rapport, Pillay said the low numbers can also be due to not testing enough people or testing the wrong people.

Mkhize previously said coronavirus testing in South Africa has until recently been reactive and restrictive, which means we may not have the full picture of the problem.

He added that South Africa needs to conduct hundreds of thousands of tests to really understand the number of infections and the spread of the virus.

More testing planned

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on 9 April that the government is planning to ramp up testing across the country.

“Our approach is to screen in communities and test people in hospitals, clinics and mobile clinics, to isolate those who are infected, and to care for those who are ill in our health facilities,” he said.

“We have used the last week to develop our screening and testing methodology in various parts of the country.”

Over the coming weeks, the government will roll out the community screening and testing programme across all provinces. This screening and testing programme will focus on vulnerable communities.

“Those who test positive and cannot self-isolate at home will be isolated at special facilities that have been identified and are now being equipped,” he said.

Tests versus confirmed cases

There is a correlation between the number of tests conducted and the number of new daily coronavirus cases.

The number of new tests peaked on 27 March at 8,066 – the same day South Africa recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 infections.

Since then the number of new daily tests ranged between 1,225 and 5,098.

The charts below show the number of new daily tests and the number of new daily COVID-19 infections over the last month.

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