COVID-19: South Africa rolls out door-to-door screening

The country reported 1,326 positive COVID-19 cases, including three deaths, as on March 31, 2020

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2020

Four days after South Africa entered a nationwide lockdown to control the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, the government has rolled out door-to-door screening and testing, tracing and medical management programme on a massive scale.

South Africa reported 1,326 positive cases, including three deaths, as on March 31, 2020. It accounted for 28 per cent of cases in Africa — the highest in the continent. 

As on March 30, 2020, the continent had over 4,700 cases, according to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his address to the nation on March 30, said the country will enter a “new phase” to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 10,000 field workers will visit homes in villages, towns and cities to screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms as part of the exercise.

“People with symptoms will be referred to local clinics or mobile clinics for testing. Those found to be infected with the virus but with no or moderate symptoms, will remain in isolation at home or at a facility provided by government,” the president said.

Those with severe symptoms will be transferred to hospitals, he added.

South Africa will also receive test kits and hospital equipment worth R40 million from Germany.

Among other measures taken is an extensive tracing system, which will also be rolled out to trace those who came in contact with infected people. It will also monitor the geographical location of new cases in real time.

The president termed the drive as “far-reaching, intensive and unprecedented in scale.”

Mass testing in countries such as Singapore, Australia and South Korea has contributed to slowing down of the infection rate. But the strategy is likely to pressurise South Africa’s testing system. According to the health ministry, there is already a significant backlog in processing of COVID-19 tests.

The National Pathology Group consisting of three largest private laboratories — Lancet, Ampath and Pathcare — in its letter dated March 20 had expressed its concern over increasing pressure on laboratories due to a spike in cases.

According to the latest estimates by the health ministry, over 35,500 tests had been conducted so far in South Africa.

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), too, is bracing to fight the pandemic. The number of laboratories that will perform COVID-19 tests would be increased from six to nine by April, according to NHLS CEO Kamy Chetty.

Meanwhile, South Africa is arranging for over 180 GeneXpert analysers in all provinces. According to officials, a Covid-19 test kit, which could process tests in 45 minutes, will also arrive in April.


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