CAPE TOWN – South Africa's worst hotspot for the coronavirus is no longer testing most people under age 55 as it tries to clear a backlog of 27,000 tests amid a shortage of kits.
Western Cape province, centered on the city of Cape Town, will test people under 55 only if they have serious health conditions, have been admitted to a hospital or are a front-line health worker, Premier Alan Winde said.
“If you’re younger than 55 and you have symptoms, assume you have COVID-19 ... After 14 days, you’ll be fine. There’s no purpose in getting a test," Western Cape head of health Keith Cloete told radio station Cape Talk this week. People who are younger than 55 and generally healthy are advised to isolate themselves if they show symptoms.
“We want to preserve tests for where it makes the most difference,” Cloete said.
The province continues to see a worrying increase in infections that has made it the epicenter of the outbreak in Africa. The Western Cape has a population of around 6 million and more than 24,000 of South Africa's 35,725 confirmed cases.
The province alone has more confirmed cases than any other country on the 54-nation continent except Egypt. South Africa has the most cases in Africa, where overall cases have surpassed 162,000.
The Western Cape's testing problems are part of a countrywide issue. South Africa has a national backlog of nearly 100,000 tests, although it has also conducted the most tests in Africa.
The Western Cape, one of Africa's most popular tourist destinations before the pandemic, is bracing for a peak in COVID-19 infections and deaths in the next few months. It already has 597 of South Africa's 792 deaths.
Cape Town announced a “fatalities management plan” last month and said the number of people dying in the city from COVID-19 could reach around 4,000 per month.
Testing materials remain in short supply across Africa, but the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new platform to pool the continent’s purchasing powers has obtained about 15 million coronavirus testing kits for the next six months.
John Nkengasong on Thursday told reporters that the continent is still far behind the goal of conducting at least 10,000 tests per 1 million people. He said just about 1,700 tests are being carried out per million compared to about 37,000 per million in Italy and 30,000 per million in the UK.
Nkengasong said 3.4 million tests have been conducted so far across Africa, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, and testing capacity is “increasing very, very rapidly.”
Africa’s numbers are rising steadily as testing improves, with a 31% increase in new cases since last week. The continent’s cases represent less than 3% of the global total.
Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.