South Africa is seeing a surge of coronavirus cases, largely hitting the Gauteng province, home to the capital of Johannesburg, where hospitals are reaching capacity and medical oxygen is running out.
The country, located in the southern hemisphere and currently in the middle of winter, is now bracing for what Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned is a “storm,” urging South Africans to follow health guidelines.
Heated tents have been set up in parking lots outside hospitals to handle the overflow of patients.
“The patients are scared, very, very scared,” Lynne Wilkinson, a public health specialist said Friday.
Wilkinson is a part of a volunteer effort to locate 100 new oxygen concentrators for a 450-bed field hospital in Johannesburg.
Over the last week, Africa saw a 24 percent increase in coronavirus cases, and South Africa is among the countries hardest hit, according to John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa account for 71 percent of the continent’s cases, though there are fears among health officials that the lack of testing and transparency in other nations could mean a far more severe situation in Africa, reported The Guardian.
South Africa reported a new daily-high of 13,674 cases Friday, bringing the nation’s total confirmed cases to 238,339, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Over a third of the nation’s cases are in the Gauteng province.
“The storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving,” Mkhize said.
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the third largest hospital in the world, housing more than 3,000 beds, has been inundated with COVID-19 patients who are now being placed in non-designated coronavirus wards, as they are at capacity, according to The Associated Press.
“Our hospital is overloaded already. There has been an influx of patients over the last two weeks,” a nurse at the hospital told The AP.
She also said that her colleagues are testing positive daily, “even people who are not working in COVID wards.”
At least 8,000 health workers across Africa have tested positive for coronavirus, but half of them are from South Africa.
South Africa originally had strict coronavirus lockdown measures in place and had even banned the sale of alcohol.
But on June first, eager to reopen the struggling economy, authorities permitted table service at restaurants and religious services.
Gauteng’s head of government David Makhura, announced Friday that he had tested positive for coronavirus and is urging people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“We must double our efforts,” he said in a statement.
Johannesburg field hospital will receive 800 more beds to aid in the crisis, along with 1,000 “oxygen points,” Wilkinson, the public health specialist, said before adding it could take weeks for it all to arrive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.