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Discovery has a very different view of how South Africans can get back to work

Discovery has provided some data on how its members are being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which it said provides some insight in how to potentially get people back into the economy again.

South Africa’s largest private medical aid group, said that as of Monday (18 May), it had reported 1,733 coronavirus cases across its schemes, having tested nearly 50,000 members. 824 of these cases have been reported in the Western Cape, while 576 cases have been reported in Gauteng.

Of these patients, 412 had to be admitted into hospital, 79 members had to be admitted to ICU and 39 members had to be put onto ventilators. Discovery said that a total of 37 members have passed away.

Discovery Health chief executive officer Ryan Noach, said that high risk members tend to be the elderly, and members living with chronic diseases.

He said that around 23% of total Discovery Health members that are infected with Covid-19 land up in hospital, and that around 4.5% of positive members end up in ICU. Those are people in severe respiratory distress. “We’ve had 59 of our members land up on ventilators.”

The proportion that method by age increases almost linearly in a steep trajectory, said Noach.

“From low proportions affected at the young age, to very high proportion of the people that get sick as octogenarians. In the 80 to 90 year old age group, 65% of those land up admitted to hospital.”

“There’s no doubt that age confers much higher risk for severe manifestations of Covid-19,” he said.

“It’s very sad that 35% of the discovery health members in the 80 to 90 year old age category have unfortunately died and succumbed to this disease,” said Noach.

He said that the good news here is that in productive working age groups – in the younger ages – the mortality rates are very, very low.

“This does allow us, I think, as a country, to come up with health policy and perhaps even economic and lockdown policy based on the very specific picture that this disease presents about who is most at risk – and hopefully can get productive people who are at less risk of mortality back into the economy at some point soon,” said Noach.

Western Cape premier, Alan Winde, noted in a statement on Wednesday, that of those people that have died in the province to date, 96% have an underlying health condition such as HIV, Diabetes, Hypertension and Tuberculosis.

“We need to protect these people, and those of more advanced age, in the weeks ahead as the virus spreads and we move up the curve, towards the peak,” he said.

The Western Cape, is seen as the epicentre of the virus in South Africa, with 11,262 infections, or more than 62% of total infections in the country.

It also accounts for the most deaths – 210 – out of a total 339.

Distribution of Covid-19 deaths by age in South Africa

South Africa is currently at level 4 lockdown. The government is working on South Africa’s new level 3 lockdown rules, after president Cyril Ramphosa proposed that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3.

This would include an expansion of the permitted business activities in the retail space as well as fewer restrictions on exercise.

“However, those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection will remain at level 4. The government has thus prepared a district-based approach to its Covid-19 response, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach,” health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said last week.

The National Coronavirus Command Council, the government body overseeing efforts to contain the virus, would review the restrictions for each district every two weeks, Mkhize added, saying the country was moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Dr Mkhize said that even though the number of coronavirus infections in South Africa is rising at a worrying rate, the country has to get back to work, and government is doing what it can to balance the two issues.

The minister said that South Africa has no choice but to ease the lockdown restrictions, because people need to get back to being economically active.

Government has to balance the risk to health with the need for people to get back to work so they can feed themselves. “People cannot live in their rooms forever,” he said.

“The World Health Organisation says we need to show a drop in infections – but we can’t wait for that. The numbers are still rising, but we don’t have the reserves to allow people to stay home. Because of that, we need to open up while infections are still rising.”


Read: Discovery data shows age is a big factor in Covid-19 infections and mortality