Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has thanked South Africans on behalf of government, for their support and cooperation over the last two years and three months of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing a media briefing on Thursday, Phaahla said that while there was a lot of common ground and agreement even across political lives early in the pandemic, the longer it took, the more fatigue and disagreements on strategy started to surface.
Phaahla appreciated the fact that notwithstanding the disagreements even leading to threats or even actual court actions, the mainframe of the collective action remained until today.
“We thank South Africans for resilience in internalizing various measures of prevention and mitigation against the virus; some of which will help us in dealing with some older respiratory diseases such as influenza and TB but also future respiratory epidemics,” he said.
The Minister also thanked the collective leadership of the country across all sectors such as faith- based, civil society, traditional, business, academia, youth, women, among others, for rising to the occasion.
President Cyril Ramaphosa constituted the National Coronvirus Command Council and following its meeting, he announced on 16 March 2020, that a Nationwide lockdown would start on midnight of 19 March 2020.
The lockdown came with a strict stay at home unless you had permission to undertake essential services.
Since then four full waves of the pandemic have ensued with the first three waves causing devastation with loss of lives across all sectors of society, including health workers.
“Disruptions of social and economic life have been huge; most painful being families unable to visit loved ones who were seriously ill in hospital and for those who passed away, being buried under strict conditions.
“On the economic side, major losses of jobs and closure of several businesses, especially SMME’S but even big hotels, airlines etc,” the Minister said.
In February 2021, government started vaccination under the Sisonke program, led by the MRC, starting with health workers and following with Education.
In May 2021, government started with the high risk age group of 60+ and progressively rolled out vaccination until it could open for 12-17 years old in November 2021.
“Even though we did not realise our goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the adult population, we take solace in that as on 22 June, 36.700 million vaccine doses have been administered to 20.09 million adults and 1.9 children of 12-17-year-old, giving a total average of 50.48% with at least one dose,” Phaahla said.
The Minister applauded the big turnout of the 60+ age group who are at risk with a 70.5% turnout and the next high risk of 50-59 years with a 66.17% turnout.
“We believe that the big turnout of the 50+ age group contributed hugely to the reduced severity hospitalization and mortality witnessed in the fourth wave and persistent up to today,” he said.
Minister Phaahla also recognized the best performing province in the vaccination program – the Free State – for being the only province which has reached 60% of coverage of their adult population at 60.15%.
He said that the province started slow but soon picked up pace towards the end of 2021 and never looked back.
“Just behind them in the mid-band are Western Cape at 57.37%, Limpopo 57%, Eastern Cape 54.53% and Northern Cape at 51.45%. Gauteng has the highest in absolute numbers at 5.4 million individuals vaccinated but low in percentage at 47.8% due to a huge population size, together with KZN, North West and Mpumalanga have reached a coverage of below 50%,” he said.
Journey throughout the waves
Dr Phaahla said that the Omicron variant driving the forth wave with its rapid spread affecting the highest number of people at a very short time led to increased natural immunity.
In March this year, when the impact of the fourth wave started waning, government took the decision to exit the Disaster Management Act as an instrument to limit the impact of COVID-19.
At the same time the Department of Health published Amendments to the 2017 Health Regulations on the Surveillance and Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions.
“On the 5th of May, we published a limited set of Regulations to provide a framework for mitigating against a spike in COVID-19 infections driven by subvariant B.4 and B.5 of the Omicron variant,” he said.
During late April and most of May, the Minister said that there was a significant peak in daily infections across the country starting to drive increased admissions to hospitals and daily deaths reported.
Daily infections rose from as low as 250 cases per day in early April to just under 8000 on 15 May 2022 with positivity rate reaching 22% on 1st May and 20% on 15 May.
“By mid-June the situation had taken to a very positive direction with decline in daily cases, decline in hospitalization, decline in positivity rate and decline in reproductive number and decline in reported deaths,” the Minister said.
Phaahla said that having monitored the positive direction for more than three weeks, government came to the conclusion that the peak infection which they concluded was a limited 5th wave driven by subvariants and not a new variant of concern was dissipating and that there was no more any eminent risk.
“It is on this basis that we approached the NCCC and the National Health Council which is made up of all Health MECs with a proposal that the limited regulations which dealt with wearing of masks indoors, limitations of gatherings, vaccination proof or PCR negative tests at Ports of Entry, should all be lifted.
“We are pleased that our proposal received full support, including by the Presidential Coordinating Council and Cabinet yesterday,” the Minister said.
Minister Phaahla thanked the leadership and guidance of President Ramaphosa, the National Cabinet, Premiers, and MECs, Mayors and Councillors and the officials across all of government.
He also thanked all Ministerial Advisory Committees for their selfless guidance without any claim of reward.
“We just need to end with caution that the COVID-19 virus is not yet gone; it is still in our midst; we are just stronger than before, especially with vaccination, and we urge those not yet vaccinated to come forward and those due for boosters to also come forward,” he said.
The Minister added that the vaccination program will remain and is now being integrated into normal health services.
“We urge all leaders of society and organizers of events to work with our health workers to promote healthy lifestyle and know your status, which is – Blood Pressure, Blood sugar, Cancer, HIV, COVID, etc.” – SAnews.gov.za