South Africans have been praised by the government for their assistance and support during the last two years and three months of the coronavirus epidemic, according to Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla.
Speaking at a media event on Thursday, Phaahla noted that while there was a lot of consensus and common ground, even across political lives, in the early stages of the pandemic, as time went on, more tiredness and strategic disputes began to emerge.
Phaahla was grateful that the collective action’s mainframe had survived until the present day despite disputes that had occasionally resulted in threats or even legal action.
“We congratulate South Africans for their perseverance in internalizing various preventative and mitigating measures against the virus; some of which will help us deal with some older respiratory diseases such as influenza and TB but also future respiratory epidemics,” he said.
The Minister also praised the nation’s collective leadership for rising to the occasion across all sectors, including business, academic, traditional, faith-based, civil society, and women, among others.
After convening the National Coronvirus Command Council, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared on March 16, 2020, that a nationwide lockdown would begin at midnight on March 19, 2020.
Staying at home was strictly enforced during the lockdown unless you obtained authorization to do certain services.
Since then, there have been four complete waves of the epidemic, with the first three wreaking havoc and taking lives in all facets of society, including those of health professionals.
The most devastating disruptions to social and economic life were families’ inability to visit loved ones who were very ill in hospitals and, for those who passed away, being buried under stringent rules.
The Minister stated, “On the economic side, substantial job losses and closure of various firms, primarily SMME’S but even big hotels, airlines, etc.”
Government immunization efforts under the Sisonke initiative, overseen by the MRC, began in February 2021 with health professionals and educators.
Government vaccination programs were gradually expanded until they could be opened to 12- to 17-year-olds in November 2021, beginning in May 2021 with the high-risk age group of 60 and older.
Despite the fact that we fell short of our goal of immunizing at least 70% of the adult population, Phaahla said, “we take comfort in the fact that as of June 22, 36.700 million vaccine doses had been administered to 20.09 million adults and 1.9 children of 12-17 years of age, giving a total average of 50.48 percent with at least one dose.”
The minister praised the excellent turnout of the at-risk 60 and older age group (70.5%) and the next high risk group (50-59 years), which had a turnout of 66.17%.
According to him, the large number of people in the 50+ age range “contributed greatly to the lower severity hospitalization and death witnessed in the fourth wave and persisted up to today.”
Minister Phaahla also praised the Free State, the province with the highest results in the immunization program, for being the only one to achieve 60 percent coverage of its adult population at 60.15 percent.
According to him, the province began slowly but quickly gained momentum around the end of 2021 and never looked back.
Just behind them in the middle of the pack are the Western Cape (57.37%), Limpopo (57%), Eastern Cape (54.53%), and Northern Cape (51.45%). “Gauteng, KZN, North West, and Mpumalanga have all attained a coverage of below 50 percent, with 5.4 million people there being immunized in absolute terms but just 47.8 percent of the population,” he said.
Travel through the waves.
According to Dr. Phaahla, the Omicron variation driving the fourth wave caused an increase in natural immunity because of its quick dissemination and ability to effect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.
The government decided to stop using the Disaster Management Act as a tool to lessen the impact of COVID-19 in March of this year, when the impact of the fourth wave began to wane.
The 2017 Health Regulations on the Surveillance and Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions were amended and published at the same time by the Department of Health.
In order to create a framework for preventing a rise in COVID-19 infections caused by subvariants B.4 and B.5 of the Omicron variant, we published a small set of regulations on May 5th, he explained.
According to the Minister, there was a notable rise in daily infections across the nation in late April and most of May that started to push up hospital admissions and daily reported deaths.
Daily infections increased from 250 cases per day in early April to just under 8000 instances on May 15, 2022, with a positive rate of 22% on May 1 and 20% on May 15.
The Minister said that by mid-June, “the situation has gone to a very positive trend, with declines in daily cases, hospitalization, positivity rate, reproductive number, and reported deaths.”
Phaahla claimed that after observing the positive trend for more than three weeks, the government had come to the conclusion that the peak infection, which they determined to be a limited 5th wave driven by subvariants rather than a new variant of concern, was dissipating and that there was no longer any significant risk.
We approached the NCCC and the National Health Council, which is made up of all Health MECs, with a proposal that the limited regulations that dealt with wearing masks indoors, restricting gatherings, requiring proof of immunizations, or requiring PCR negative tests at Ports of Entry should all be lifted.
The Minister stated, “We are glad that yesterday, the Presidential Coordinating Council and Cabinet gave their full support to our plan.
Minister Phaahla expressed gratitude for the leadership and direction provided by President Ramaphosa, the National Cabinet, the Premiers and MECs, the Mayors and Councillors, and the employees of all levels of government.
He also expressed his gratitude to the Ministerial Advisory Committees for their unselfish advice and lack of expectation of payment.
As we come to a close, he said, “We just need to end with the 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.”
The Minister further stated that the immunization campaign will continue and was currently being incorporated into routine medical care.
“We implore all societal leaders and event planners to collaborate with our health professionals to encourage healthy lifestyles and know your status, which includes blood pressure, blood sugar, cancer, HIV, COVID, and other conditions.”