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Premier Alan Winde on the Western Cape’s healthcare platform and vaccine programme

15 Dec 2021

“This festive season, remember that fresher is better and that vaccines remain your best defense against severe disease”

Over the last week, the Western Cape has officially entered the Fourth Wave according to the National Institute for Communicable Disease’s (NICD) definition. I call on residents to remain calm, be vigilant and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

During today’s digital press conference, we set out how early evidence on the Omicron variant is now emerging, indicating a slower increase in hospitalisations. While this is promising, it is still too early to draw decisive conclusions and we need to wait for more robust research to be finalized.

What is also clearly emerging already is that the vaccine remains effective in preventing severe disease, especially in those at higher risk. That is why our key message today is that vaccinations remain our best defence against COVID-19 and that you should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

In terms of preparedness for the Fourth Wave, we have sufficient measures in place to manage the impact on our healthcare system and ensure an agile response. This is guided by a 6-point resurgence plan and trigger system, alerting us when to bring additional capacity online. 

Based on scientific advice, we urge the public to follow key steps in the weeks ahead to protect themselves and their families:

  • Vaccinate to prevent severe diseases;
  • Wear a mask, because the virus spreads through the air;
  • Ensure good ventilation, with lots of fresh air;
  • If you are gathering, go outside and avoid crowds; and
  • Adhere to the Golden Rules of Good Hygiene, including staying home as soon as you feel sick.

“The Western Cape Government calls on all countries who have imposed travels ban on South Africa to lift them immediately”

We welcome the removal of South Africa from the United Kingdom’s red list which was a critical step in clawing back jobs in our Tourism and Hospitality Sector.

There is no empirical evidence that supports travel bans stopping or reducing the transmission of the Omicron variant, and this has further been stated by the World Health Organisation.

We now call on other countries who have implemented similar travel bans to lift them immediately.

“Hospital admissions are increasing to 65 admissions a day, although at a slower rate than previous waves. Deaths have not increased and remain at 1 a day.”

The Western Cape has officially entered a Fourth Wave and we will continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths in the province through the Provincial Department of Health.

According to the South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium’s short-term predictions, actual case numbers continue to align with last week’s prediction. We are now expecting more cases than the 7-day moving average of the Third Wave peak in the coming week.

Our healthcare platform shows us that across the province:

  • The reproduction or “R” number is over 1 and has risen quickly, surpassing that of the early stages of both the Second and Third Waves. 
  • We are continuing to see steep increases in the number of daily new cases with on average 2000 new diagnoses per day.
  • The proportion of positive COVID-19 tests has increased to an average of 38%.
  • Admissions are now showing signs of an early increase with 65 new admissions per day, while deaths remain low with around 1 death per day.

“We have learnt many lessons about the Omicron variant but call on the scientific community to conclude their research speedily.”

We are still in the very early stages of the Fourth Wave and there remains a lot to learn about Omicron, so all results to date are preliminary. We are awaiting robust evidence and call on the scientific community to conclude their research speedily.

What we have learnt to date about the Omicron variant, and on a preliminary basis, is that re-infection may occur where an individual is infected by the variant.

To date, the proportion of cases with severe disease have been lower – this is most likely due to a predominantly younger population being infected and who are at lower risk of severe disease. In addition, this points to higher levels of protection among those who have already been vaccinated and among those who have been previously infected.

It is important to note, that there is no evidence to date that Omicron causes less severe disease in unvaccinated people without prior infection, and we are still seeing very sick patients in our hospitals.

This means that it is still very important that you get vaccinated, should you have not already done so. The COVID-19 vaccines appear to still provide strong protection against severe disease from Omicron and remain our best defence as we enter the Fourth Wave.

“The Western Cape is prepared to scale up its response in line with its trigger warning system.”

In anticipation of a Fourth Wave, we have established a 6-point resurgence plan. This plan uses hospital capacity as the most important measure, triggering an upscaling in its resource capacity to ensure we are always able to care for those in need.

Through the 6-point plan, the Western Cape Government aims to:

  1. Change community behaviour to prevent infection, through sustainable and affordable interventions based on current evidence.
  2. Ensure ongoing surveillance, particularly with hospitalisations. While we will be vigilant of the growth of cases, our primary focus will be on health service pressure so that we save lives.
  3. Support and maintain our mass vaccination campaign because it remains the most important intervention that we must protect our health system.
  4. Triage our healthcare platform to ensure we have the capacity needed to respond. This will be done through pre-determined triggers, that will enable us to bring field hospitals and other capacity online when it is needed. 
  5. Maintain comprehensive health service, with a particular focus on mitigating the impact that de-escalation may have on chronic disease care.
  6. Safeguard the well-being of healthcare workers, through vaccination as well as healing and mental health programmes.

“We are seeing an increase in hospitalisations but are coping with the demand. Hospital admissions are currently still at relatively low levels.”

In terms of current hospitalizations, we are seeing a sustained week-on-week increase in hospitalisations at over 20% (off a low base) but are coping with the demand as hospital admissions are currently still at relatively low levels. Based on a 7-day moving average, COVID-19 hospital admissions stand at 555 across the platform.

The early and preliminary evidence on Omicron does however indicate a slower increase in hospitalisation, but again we need to await robust research and avoid premature conclusions.

Insofar as our healthcare platform is concerned:

  • The Metro hospitals have an average bed occupancy rate of 89%; George drainage area hospitals are at 72%; Paarl drainage area hospitals are at 76% and Worcester drainage area hospitals are at 76%. Critical care bed occupancy rate for designated COVID-19 beds for the province stands at 10%.
  • COVID-19 and persons under investigation cases currently make up 8% of all available acute general hospital capacity in both Metro and Rural Regional Hospital drainage areas.
  • There are currently no patients at Sonstraal, Freesia & Ward 99 and Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope.

In line with our triggered escalation response to intermediate care beds, we are ensuring that:

  • Brackengate intermediate care facility is now in the process of being fully commissioned, with 35 patients currently admitted. The facility is currently at 10.4% capacity.
  • Once we reach 50% capacity at Brackengate, we will commission the Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope which has the capacity for 200 beds. This will be done on a ward-by-ward basis.
  • Sonstraal and Harry Comay intermediate care facilities will be commissioned as required depending on the demand.

“We need to ensure that as many people as possible get vaccinated to prevent severe illness and death during the Fourth Wave”

Getting vaccinated remains our best weapon against severe illness and even death, which is why we strongly encourage those who are at the highest risk, including those 50 years and older to get vaccinated. We also encourage those healthcare workers who are eligible for their booster shots to get vaccinated as we have entered the Fourth Wave.

By 14 December 2021, we had administered at least one vaccine to 2 604 133 or 52% of the total adult population. Of which, 2 267 389 adults in the Western Cape or 46% of the total adult population have already been fully vaccinated. The total number of children, between the ages of 12 and 17 years vaccinated stands at 99 312 or 15.37%.

In total, we have administered a total of 4 378 518 vaccines in the province, and 14 493 vaccines in the last 24 hours alone.

To further drive the uptake of vaccines in the province, we are continuing in our efforts to lead a targeted vaccine campaign – bringing vaccines to the people and ensuring that nobody is left behind.

This includes:

  • Deploying 9 EMS Vaxi-Taxi Units across the province to provide mobile COVID-19 vaccination services 2 to 3 days a week. These units are deployed in hard-to-reach communities where vaccine uptake is low. To date, over 4 250 individuals have been vaccinated through this programme.
  • Launching 4 additional mobile vaccination units on 7 December 2021 in partnership with Old Mutual SA and Accelerate Cape Town. These units will be available 5 days per week and are deployed in the Metro and Cape Winelands District, focussing on low uptake areas.
  • The Solidarity Fund is funding Outreach Sites to administer vaccines through Clinical Operators across the province. A total of 5 Clinical Operators have been appointed to work in 3 rural districts and 3 metro sub-structures. This will support existing efforts to drive demand creation and vaccination in identified areas.

I am however concerned that the total number of unvaccinated persons in the province stands at 2 372 770. We have now entered the Fourth Wave, and your chances of getting severe disease are much higher. Please get vaccinated as soon as possible, should you not have already done so, so that you can protect yourself from needing to be hospitalised.

“Enjoy the festive season safely”

I know many people will be starting to enjoy the Festive Season from the public holiday tomorrow.

Please remember the basic steps you need to follow to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Fresher is always better, so enjoy the beautiful outdoor spaces our province has to offer.

If you are travelling, please make sure you arrive alive. Do not drink and drive, or speed, ensure you buckle up and rest often if you are completing a long trip. If you are going to be on public transport, remember to keep the windows open, and your mask on. 

I sincerely hope that you enjoy this upcoming break, take the necessary time to recuperate and do so safely.

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