About 20,000 vehicles a day are expected to move between Gauteng and the Western Cape during the festive season, with another 15,000 heading from Gauteng to the Eastern Cape.
Throw in the anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 vehicles that travel between Gauteng and Limpopo a day, and it’s clear to see why these Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) statistics have SA’s health officials worried about rapid transmission of Covid-19 during the Christmas holiday period.
Health experts have warned that the country might see a huge spike in the number of Covid-19 infections with the increase in interprovincial travel, as families reunite and holidaymakers hit the road.
Chief medical specialist of rural health and dean of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Nursing and Public Health, Prof Mosa Moshabela, said current Covid-19 patterns are a worry — but that it could get worse in the months to come.
“We are witnessing a second surge, localised in the Eastern Cape now, and spreading throughout the province. This will likely trigger a surge in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Gauteng will trigger all other provinces after the holidays, towards end of January, and through February and March,” Moshabela warned.
Limiting travel would be the first of the precautions needed, he said.
“If fewer people travel, especially to the Eastern Cape, then there is chance we might limit the spread. Those who opt to travel, should avoid gatherings. They should also self-quarantine for seven to 10 days, and follow standard preventive measures,” Moshabela said.
He said that the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape fed each other with infections, given the migration between the provinces.
African Health Research Institute director Prof Willem Hanekom called on people to avoiding travelling altogether, or at least to avoid the cities.
“The total number of cases in the Eastern Cape is close to the peak we saw during the first wave. This is very concerning. It also looks like some of this resurgence has spread to the Western Cape, as the cases are rising there, too,” he said.
Hanekom called on those who do travel to wear masks at all times when not at home.
“Make sure there is adequate ventilation in taxis or other forms of transportation. Open windows. Avoid crowded areas at all costs. Avoid close contact. Do not touch anyone,” he said.
Stellenbosch University public health-care specialist Kerrin Begg also warned that if people were travelling they should avoid densely populated areas.
Western Cape premier Alan Winde said they were deeply concerned about the growing number of Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations in the province.
“Over the past week alone, the province has witnessed a 52.1% jump in new cases from 125,919 to 126,571 (an increase of 652). A day later they increased by 1,072. This growth is primarily driven by two districts, the Garden Route and Cape Town.
“My biggest concern is for our health platform, which is under growing pressure. We need to ensure that every person gets health care when they need it,” the premier said.
He called on people to urgently reconsider hosting all non-essential gatherings of people this year, especially indoor gatherings with poor ventilation.
Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said the province was concerned at the increasing infections in Nelson Mandela Bay, Sarah Baartman, Buffalo City Metro and Amathole.
“This increase can be attributed to a lack of compliance by some residents of these municipalities,” Mabuyane said.
He said accelerated actions are under way to respond to the surge. This included mass screening and testing in hotspot areas, and more engagement with tavern owners, the taxi industry and public.
“Preparation for border area management, screening and testing is swiftly under way,” he said.
As of Sunday, there were 787,702 cumulative Covid cases in the country with 21,477 deaths. The Eastern Cape now accounts for between 50% and 55% of the country’s daily Covid-19 cases.
Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the province was retraining their health-care workers on contact tracing.
“Any person arriving from areas or provinces that have high prevalence of Covid-19 will be screened and those with symptoms will immediately be isolated and tested.”
Western Cape transport spokesperson Ntomboxolo Makoba said a number of roadblocks will be held in the province to manage those travelling into the province, in line with the expected influx.
Eastern Cape transport spokesperson Unathi Binqose says experience in monitoring trends over the years indicate that the province’s coastal towns become destinations of choice in terms of traffic flows, particularly on days after Christmas leading up to New Year’s Day.