Covid-19: Minister of Health addresses test backlog concerns, gives detailed breakdown of SA’s stats

The Minister of Health also explained that an employee of the National Health Laboratory Services lost her battle against Covid-19.

The total number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa, as of 28 May, is 27 403.

These stats were released in the early hours of Friday morning (29 May) in a statement issued by Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, and included a thorough breakdown of South Africa’s Covid-19 statistics and addressed concerns over a backlog of tests which are conducted but the status remains unknown.

As of 28 May, there were 14 370 recoveries, and 25 more deaths reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 577.

One of these deaths was of a health laboratory services worker. The statement by Mkhize read, “We are saddened to report that one of the deaths that have been reported is that of an employee of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS). She was confirmed with Covid-19 a few weeks ago and was thereafter admitted to hospital.

“She finally succumbed to death today. We are deeply saddened by this news and wish to send words of comfort to her family and thank them for having allowed their loved one to serve the country during this difficult time.”

The statement also encouraged other NHLS employees. “We understand that this tragedy will certainly test you. But we wish to assure you of our commitment to continue taking the necessary measures to protect you while you perform your duties by providing the PPE required and ensuring that your workplace protocols observe all the safety measures to mitigate the risk of our front line employees getting infected.”

Provincial breakdown

The total number of cases per province is as follows:

ProvinceTotal cases for 28 May 2020Percentage total
Eastern Cape3 30612.1
Free State2250.8
Gauteng3 32912.1
KwaZulu-Natal2 3498,6
Limpopo1440.5
Mpumalanga1110.4
North West1340.5
Northern Cape510.2
Western Cape17 75464.8
Unknown00
Total27 403100

The distribution of Covid-19 positive cases by age is as follows:

The provincial breakdown of deaths and recoveries are as follows:

ProvinceDeathsRecoveries
Eastern Cape771 700
Free State8123
Gauteng311 993
KwaZulu-Natal501180
Limpopo375
Mpumalanga067
North West145
Northern Cape130
Western Cape4069 157
Total5771 4370

Gender distribution of deaths:

Male (%)Female (%)Total
308 (53.4%)269 (46.6)577

Age distribution of deaths:

AgeDeaths (%)Percentage
0-920.3
10-1910.2
20-2940.7
30-39335.7
40-496110.6
50-5914425
60-6915326.5
70-7911319.6
80-89559.5
90-99111.9
577100

Tests conducted

The total number of tests conducted is 655 723. Mkhize explained in the statement, “We continue to see the number of tests increasing rapidly and they consist of those who present to hospitals/laboratories (passive cases) and those who are identified for testing through the screening process. For various reasons, a lot of work has to be done to synchronise these figures at the laboratory. The figures that are reported are tests that have been conducted.

“Several tests are concluded, however a backlog arises where a number of them are not allocated per province. Of the specimens that have been collected based on the clinical prioritisation, some specimens do not immediately get processed, resulting in a backlog in tests.

“This means tests are not concluded on the same day when the specimen is received. The number of days it takes to clear those specimen remains variable. In the last 24 hours, 20 727 tests have been conducted.”

Source: Minister of Health

The statement further explained, “As at 27 May 2020, 634 996 tests had been conducted and of those a total of 29 948 tests reflects a backlog of unallocated tests. This is due to the lack of sufficient data recorded and this requires the NICD [National Institute of Communicable Diseases] to verify each test prior to allocating it to the province.”

Unprocessed specimens:
(Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Limpopo and North West do not have backlogs of unprocessed specimens)

RegionUnprocessed as
at 9 May 2020
Unprocessed as
at 14 May 2020
Unprocessed as
at 21 May 2020
Unprocessed as
at 25 May 2020
Eastern Cape8 3507 00023 00022 802
Free State2004 3006 0008 800
Gauteng15 00013 00023 00024 076
KwaZulu-Natal12 00018 00028 00022 802
Western Cape14 00016 63021 00718 000
Total49 55058 930101 00796 480

“The acting director-general was indeed correct when he stated that the backlog was around 80 000. This is to confirm that the exact figure of specimens that have not been processed is 96 480 as at 25 May 2020,” read the statement, which added the minister also made reference to the backlog of tests that had not been allocated and stated the figure of 30 000. “This was in reference to the backlog of tests done but remain unknown at this stage as depicted in the table entitled ‘Covid-19 Indicators By Province’.

“The above table illustrates that the number of tests conducted versus the specimens collected but not yet processed fluctuates on a daily basis. As we have previously explained, this challenge is caused by the limited availability of test kits globally (that is, inadequate supply of extraction kits and high throughputs of PCR kits).

“It must be acknowledged that this capacity issue is a global challenge,” said the statement.

“It is on this basis that, whilst specimens to test for Covid-19 are being collected from the community screening campaign, priority is being given to processing specimens that are received from patients who are admitted in hospital and health care workers.

“We continue to engage suppliers all over the world and have issued licenses through SAHPRA (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) as part of mitigating this capacity challenge.”

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