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South Africa faces significant constraints with testing kits for Covid-19, Parliament’s health committees heard on Wednesday evening

The Department of Health’s deputy director-general for communicable and non-communicable diseases, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, Yogan Pillay, said because of a “global scramble for test kits”, suppliers’ inability to provide enough kits and locked down airports, there were “significant constraints” with tests kits.

“We need to be a bit more selective with who we test,” he said. “That’s been quite an issue.”

The Portfolio Committee on Health and Select Committee on Health and Social Services received a briefing from the department on its annual performance plan (APP), budget and strategy for 2021 to 2025. It was drawn up before the pandemic reached South African shores, and subsequently only one of the 76 slides in the presentation made mention of Covid-19.

Slide 75 stated the APP, strategy and budget “are going to require an extensive review in light of the reprioritisation due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

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After the presentation, ANC MP Pumza Dyantyi said: “I want to ask a pregnant question. What is the impact of Covid-19 on the plans of the department?”

DA MP Mbulelo Bara said a presentation without mention of Covid-19 “means we are not living in this day and age”.

Several MPs asked Covid-19-related questions.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize did not attend the meeting as he was meeting members of faith communities with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

His deputy, Joe Phaahla, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic exposed many gaps in our health sector.” He added it was also an opportunity to build resilience.

Pillay said the first phase of the lockdown was necessary and achieved two things: it decreased the peak by two million infections, and it moved the peak by six months.

“So, it bought us time.”

He said they knew it disrupted people’s lives, adding the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) had been critical in their response, providing them with daily statistics.

“The NICD is a treasure, for many reasons, and we must continue to support it.”

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