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Minister Joe Phaahla: South Africa's response to Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic

8 Oct 2021

Remarks by Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla during virtual media briefing programme on the update of SA response to Covid-19 Pandemic

Thanks to our program director Mr Foster Mohale
Greetings to Deputy Minister Dr. Dhlomo
Greetings to our guest Mr Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa: CEO Tourism Business Council of SA
Members of the media, viewers and listeners

Good morning to all South Africans

It’s our pleasure and privilege to be back to provide updates to the nation on how we are managing the fight against the Covid 19 pandemic and the challenges ahead of us. Even though we had a few weeks break from formal briefing we have been sharing information from different platforms.

As usual we will touch on the epidemiology of the pandemic and on key defences against it especially the vaccination program.

It is with a deep sense of relief that I can say to South Africans today that we have indeed exited the long drawn third wave of COVID-19 infections on the 23rd September. This third wave has lasted close to 120 days and has been much longer than the previous two waves.

The number of new infections have been dropping consistently in the last three weeks with 33% drop in the last 7 days. There has been a 19,3% decrease in hospitalization in last 7 days. Even more encouraging is that there has been a 51% decrease in reported deaths in last seven days even though one death is one too many . 

The overall positivity rate has remained below 5% in the last seven days with a daily average of 3%. Average positivity rates have reduced in all provinces in last seven days. We still have some concerns with the Norther Cape and Free State where positivity even though significantly down still hoovers over 5% on some days including yesterday. The reproductive rate of the virus is below one at 0,67 which is another indication that we have reached a state of stability.

It is because of these encouraging declines in infections and stability of the pandemic that President Ramaphosa was able to make announcements of reduced restrictions last week Thursday to level one with liberal allowances including for gatherings and curfew.

We join the President in thanking all South Africans who have been resilient in observing the non- pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing of masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, hand washing and sanitizing. It is these measures which have brought us where we are today, level one.

We wish to take this opportunity to appeal to all compatriots that, please let us not lower our guard because the reduced level of restrictions. Let us always remember that while the numbers are down, the virus is still in our midst. While we reported 989 new infections yesterday, a huge improvement from the over 20 000 earlier in July, the enemy, the killer is still lurking in our midst. 

There are still over 5 000 people in hospital of whom 885 are in ICU with 465 on ventilators. We can only sustain the low levels of infections if we continue to observe the personal health and safety measures.

We again salute our gallant health care workers who continue to risk their lives while saving others. As we enjoy the relaxed restrictions let us always keep our thoughts on the health care workers because by keeping safe we also keep them safe.

Our vaccination programme which is our most potent weapon against the pandemic is now firmly entrenched in our communities, thanks to colleagues MECs, HODs and especially our ground forces who make sure that vaccination sites are open at least 5 days a week and in some instances 6 or 7 days a week. 

We thank President Ramaphosa, deputy President Mabuza, leaders of all three spheres of government, leaders of civil society such as religious, traditional, business, sports and recreation, arts and culture activists for coming on board over the Vooma weekend, this last weekend. 

We surpassed our minimum target of 350 000 vaccination doses administered and the momentum has carried through into the week with sustained increases from Monday to Thursday, with the last two days back to over 200 000 doses per day. Over 2100 sites were open on Friday, 1400 on Saturday and 500 on Sunday. 

The increase of vaccination sites weekend opening gave opportunity for those working on week days. More Vooma weekends will be announced in future by Presidency.

Total doses administered by yesterday reached 18 735 127, with 13 302 588 individuals vaccinated which is 33,4% of adult population close to half of the 70% we are aiming for. More encouraging is that 70% of the more vulnerable groups the 60+ and 50-59 age group is within reach. 

For the 60+ we are now at 60,7% coverage with Limpopo province at over 71% coverage. Nationally we need to reach 513112 more over 60s to reach 70% coverage. For the 50-59 we are at 52% needing to reach another 864000 people to reach 70% coverage.

We applaud the work done so far by our teams, both the public and private vaccination sites, and we appreciate the partnership with the private sector. We also thank the Solidarity Fund and all those who have contributed to its funding for the invaluable contribution it has made in the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic and now in the vaccination program.

A major highlight of our press briefing today is the launch of our vaccination certificate. It has been long in the making and today we are happy to introduce it formally. I am aware that over the last three days while it was being tested many people have uploaded it into their cell phones. I am also aware that some people have experienced hiccups in the process and today the team is here to answer your questions.

The certificate was developed in partnership between the NDOH and the CSIR and what we are launching today is the first phase. We say so because while it is ready for use there will be more improvements over the next two months to improve safety.

We expect the certificate to be a tool to enable vaccinated people to access many opportunities which various service providers will make available. Amongst others we expect sports and recreation to open up more for vaccinated people, shops to provide discounts and others to give prizes, entertainment like music festivals to start opening for vaccinated people with safety measures, travel and tourism to open more, MR Tshivhengwa will say more.  

Our role as Health is to make the tools available for gradual return to many activities we have been missing.

We are pleased that the UK government has as of yesterday decided to take South Africa off the red list meaning more easy travel between our two countries. Even more exciting is that they have announced recognition of our vaccination certificate.

We call on all South Africans and other nationals living in our country to come forward and get vaccinated. We have a window of opportunity while infection rates are low to protect ourselves before the expected fourth wave later this year. The vaccines have proven to be safe and effective. Very few vaccinated people are falling ill, ask the health care workers and the educators.

Over 13,3 million people have now taken the vaccines and very few have had serious side effects. We have an opportunity to save our lives and of those of others close to us and open the country— Now is the time, Ke Nako, Se ku Iskathi

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