Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has said the government is not expecting one million COVID-19 deaths in South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma was seemingly addressing the confusion sparked by Gauteng Heath MEC Dr Bandile Masuku’s comments on Wednesday on graves being prepared in the province.
Addressing a media briefing during a visit to Honingnestkrans cemetery in Pretoria, Masuku said, “We are preparing over 1.5 million grave sites.” However, he later clarified that 1.5 million is the number of grave sites the province has in general, not specifically for COVID-19 deaths.
Writing on Twitter on Thursday, Dlamini-Zuma also moved to clear the confusion. “Government’s response to COVID-19 is informed by the imperative to prevent infections and SAVE lives. We are NOT therefore expecting and preparing for 1 million COVID-19-related deaths in the country.”
In a statement on Thursday, the provincial Health Department also denied claims of Gauteng preparing one million graves. “The province does not have over a million already open dug graves. Over a million graves refers to the collective capacity municipalities can take,” it said.
Gauteng is now the epicentre of the pandemic in South Africa with more than 75,000 confirmed cases as of 8 July. This constituted 33.4 percent of all confirmed cases in the country. The province also had 478 deaths and 23,084 recoveries as of 8 July.
During his briefing, Masuku said although it was an “uncomfortable subject” to talk about, the provincial government had to assess the state of readiness of cemeteries.
“We had to come and deal with the unfortunate and uncomfortable subject of death and also to see our preparedness as a province to see how we will be able to cater in an event that we will be having a whole lot of people who will be passing on in a short space of time,” he said.
He added that up to six million people in Gauteng could be infected with COVID-19. If one percent of them succumb to it, it would mean 60,000 deaths.
“We are working around those figures and it’s something we are prepared for. We are not here to pass panic, but it’s also to ascertain from our side that the logistics are in place,” Masuku said.
No hard lockdown
A rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Gauteng in recent weeks has sparked anxiety among residents that the Gauteng lockdown could be upscaled.
However, in an interview with Radio 702 earlier this week, Masuku said, “We wouldn’t want to return to hard lockdown because of the implications it has for the economy. What we are putting across is that we also have to get into it with proper insight because we’ve got experience with the previous lockdown.”
Provincial spokesperson Thabo Masebe also told eNCA that Gauteng will focus more on stricter enforcement of lockdown regulations.
“We will also continue working with other spheres of government to go factories, shopping malls and other places to ensure that people follow the regulations,” he explained.