KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health response to Covid-19 (postponed)


19 August 2020

Chairperson: Mr S Dhlomo (ANC


Meeting Summary

In this virtual meeting, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health briefed the Committee on its response to Covid-19. The meeting took an unexpected turn when Members raised their concern about the continued absence of the KZN Health MEC, Ms Nomagagu Simelane-Zulu, who was initially present but requested to be excused to attend a Cabinet meeting with the Premier.

The Chairperson granted the apology for the MEC to be excused, but Members voiced their concerns over the Committee Whatsapp Group that the MEC ought to be present for this meeting as the political head. This meeting was scheduled well in advance thus it was unacceptable for the MEC to request to be excused at the last minute – without prior and proper communication of the apology.

While waiting for her return, the Head of Department of the KZN Department of Health briefed the Committee on number of cases; recoveries; deaths; oxygenation; breakdown of cases per district; facilities renovated and revamped for patients; bed occupancy; patients admitted for intensive care; personal protective equipment (PPE) and the Department's relationship with the labour unions. 

Communication attempts were made at the request of the Chairperson to invite the MEC back to the meeting. As she could not return to the meeting, the Committee took a resolution to end the meeting and arrange for an evening meeting that the MEC could attend. 

Meeting report

Opening Remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone and thanked Members for being present at the virtual meeting. He briefly touched on the Committee programme for the term and asked Members if they had any inputs that would need to be factored in. However, there were no substantive comments submitted by Members.

Ms Nomagagu Simelane-Zulu, KZN Health MEC, submitted her apology to be excused as she had to attend a cabinet meeting with the KZN Premier.

The Chairperson accepted the apology.

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health response to Covid-19
Dr Sandile Tshabalala, Head of Department: KZN Department of Health, presented the briefing and indicated that the information is reflects up to the 16 August. KZN first recorded its first case on 5 March, which was one of the nine people who returned from Italy on 3 March. By 26 March, KZN saw an increase of numbers by more than 1000 cases daily.

At this time two districts were contributing to more than 50% of the cases. The St. Augustine Hospital was closed due to the increasing number of cases there. The Department engaged with the national leadership of the health group of that private hospital. When it reopened, the Department was pleased with the work that was done to take care of the staff and patients.

The Chairperson interjected that Committee members were concerned that the MEC had left the meeting. The MEC was informed well in advance of this meeting and she ought to be present for this meeting. He asked Dr Tshabalala to get his team to contact the MEC to re-join the meeting.

Dr Tshabalala noted the request.

He continued to present and said that since April the Covid-19 cases began increasing exponentially with a 1000 cases per day. Mid July, we found ourselves with the highest number on a daily basis, with over 3000 positive cases reported daily. However, these numbers have since gone down.

During the Alert Level 5 Lockdown, the numbers were not increasing as much as when Alert Level Four commenced. During Alert Level Three, the numbers were much higher due to the lifting on the ban of alcohol which contributed to the increase. We also experienced some picketing by some unions and this led to increases as well, particularly healthcare workers.

We strengthened the interventions for identifying the contacts and reducing the turnaround time for test results. As at 16 August, the number of diagnosed cases was 105 383 and active cases were 23 741. The recoveries stood at 79 955 (79%) and the death rate was 2% (1 687). The rate of admissions was only 7% while 93% were in self-isolation.

He outlined the distribution of cases by district (see presentation).

Many of the districts became hotspots and the province eventually became a hotspot. The figures reveal that the incidence risk has decreased.

Thus far, 3 561 healthcare workers have been infected by Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Most of these workers are nurses.

As for bed occupancy, we were concerned about people refusing to be admitted to the hospitals due to the stigma associated with admissions. On 16 August, KZN had 1 725 patients admitted in both private and public hospitals. Of those admitted, 364 patients required intensive care services. The private hospitals admitted more patients than the public hospitals, with 86% and 14%, respectively.

KZN has a cumulative total of 1 687 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. All 11 districts have recorded deaths, but eThekwini Municipality contributed above half of the reported deaths. The majority of the deaths were Black, followed by Indians.

Dr Tshabalala reported that the MEC was currently presenting to the provincial cabinet as called by the Premier but the team will check once she has finished her presentation.

The Chairperson said the Committee would like to go through the engagement in the presence of the MEC.

Dr Tshabalala resumed and reported on recoveries per districts (see presentation).

On labour relations, the KZN DoH had discussions with the labour unions to ensure that at all levels there were safety committees. We will ensure that these exist and are monitored. Recently, NEHAWU went through our institutions conducting inspections. We also do engage with them in terms of the guidelines about the screening and monitoring of patients and staff members.

As for personal protective equipment (PPE) monitoring, this is monitored from the head office right down to the institutions.

We were allocated R1.2 billion to employ additional staff for fighting Covid-19. Some of those that were employed on a part time basis have now been made permanent.

The meeting was adjourned to wait for the MEC to re-join the meeting.

KZN Health MEC absence
Mr P Van Staden (FF+) said that this was not acceptable and the MEC needs to make herself available. However, if the Committee adjourns now, when will this meeting resume?

Dr P Dyanti (ANC) suggested that the KZN team should advise when it will be available. She agreed that it was unacceptable for the MEC to be present only briefly for the meeting without sending a prior apology for her absence. This will be reported to the House Chair and the Speaker. The meeting cannot be delayed because of an MEC who shows no respect for Parliament.

Ms M Hlengwa (IFP) also indicated that this was unprofessional. When Committee members were in Durban, she was not even present and actually undermined Members of Parliament when they went to KZN to conduct oversight.

The Chairperson said that he had sent a message to the Premier that when the Committee was conducting oversight in eThekwini, neither the Health MEC or the Head of Department was present.

Ms S Gwarube (DA) said that the Rules of Parliament are very clear on the powers of the Committee. This needs to be reported to the House Chair and the Speaker. The Committee cannot work around her schedule and the programme was sent to the MEC well in advance. Parliament has a very clear mandate. That mandate cannot be brought to question because of people who do not respect decorum and the office they occupy.

Ms N Chirwa (EFF) echoed the sentiments of the other Members that the behaviour of the MEC was not acceptable. She suggested that the Committee adjourn as there is not a clear indication from the MEC about her re-joining the meeting.

The Chairperson welcomed the suggestions and agreed that the meeting should end. He then suggested that the Committee Secretary communicate with the Office of the MEC to schedule an evening meeting so that the MEC is present for engagement.

He asked Dr Tshabalala and his team to pass the concerns of the Members to their principals.

The meeting was adjourned.