Friday, 17 September 2021

Bloemfontein: The Minister of Health, Dr. Joe Phaahla, on Friday; 17 September 2021, visited the Free State vaccination sites to monitor the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout programme.

Minister Phaahla was joined by the Free State Premier; Ms Sisi Ntombela and MEC for Health, Ms Montseng Tsiu on a site visit and walk-about at vaccination sites around the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality and interacted with both health care workers and community members.

The Health Minister said that he was very happy to be in the Free State province to give support to the provincial leadership, the health workforce, whole of government, civil society and all of society working together with government in the fight against COVID-19.

“We are encouraged Honorable Premier by the steady decline of new infections in the Free State even though we believe we can do more to deal with the cluster outbreaks. Your province and your neighbour Northern Cape have struggled with this third wave. As of yesterday you were still fourth in percentage of total new cases after Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, at 12% of new cases,”

Vaccination certificate not a discrimination tool, says Health Minister

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, says the planned COVID-19 vaccine certificates will not be used to deny unvaccinated citizens access to public services.

“I want to emphasise that this certificate will not prevent people from accessing essential services, especially public services. You will not be required to show a certificate to get to the clinic. I have heard… [claims] that we want to deny people services. That is not going to happen. What this is meant for, is to say that you can open up more economic and recreational activities,” the Minister said.

Phaahla announced that an implementation plan for the vaccination certificates will be presented to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) within the next 10 days.

The certificate will be accessible through a smartphone but those who do not own a smartphone will be able to receive a printed version of the certificate at their vaccination site.

Vaccination roll out programme

Phaahla reported that at least 220 450 COVID-19 vaccines were administered on Thursday, with the total number of vaccines administered reaching 15.6 million since the rollout began.

At least 7.7 million people living in the country are now fully vaccinated.

Although the total vaccinations account for only 28% of the country’s adult population, Phaahla still believes that reaching 70% by the festive season is a possibility.

“We still have a long way to go… Slowly but surely we’re getting there. We still need 16 to 17 million more people to come forward [and] if that happens, we will have a very good Christmas.

“If we ramp up vaccination, we are certain that we can reclaim the kind of life we are all missing. We can get more social activities and even more economic activity including sports, arts and culture events,” he said.

Phaahla said together with personal non-pharmaceutical interventions, vaccination remains the best defence against serious illness as a result of contracting COVID-19.

“[Vaccination] is important to make sure that if the virus comes to us, we get less serious illness and [have] less risk of ending up in the hospital, even less risk of ending up in the ICU and even less risk of succumbing to the virus,” he said.

Cases

The Minister said over the last 24-hour reporting cycle, the country recorded at least 4 215 new COVID-19 cases, with 311 people succumbing to COVID-19 related illness.

Phaahla said although these numbers remain concerning, new infections are showing a consistent downward trend, even though the country has been in the grip of the third wave for at least 120 days.

“This third wave has been very long… but there is light at the end of the tunnel. As of [Thursday], our infection rate over the last seven days… has been down by at least 35% in the third wave. Hospitalisation is down by at least 12.5%.

“The positivity rate… is also down to 9.3%, so we are getting closer to where the [World Health Organisation] can say we are now stable… That’s if we can get down to a positivity rate of only 5%. We believe that this is because of us all working together,” Phaahla said.

COVID-19 and mental health

The Minister shone the light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health state of citizens.

People living in South Africa have been under lockdown for at least 540 days, with regulations restricting movements of people and activity in place.

The Health Minister said the lockdown and its restrictions have taken a toll on the mental state of citizens.

“It’s a sad situation and we appreciate the fact that so much has been sacrificed. We are missing those big gatherings. Part of the result of this is that we are starting to see more mental health problems…in younger people. There were reports which showed a lot anxiety and depression in younger people.

“We’re starting to see rising suicides because people are depressed [and] they can’t do the things which they like to do. So let us all take this opportunity to take the vaccine because we can end up with really good improvements in the quality of life,” he said.

Phaahla said continued adherence to COVID-19 regulations would see a relaxation of restrictions.

“We will be reporting to the NCCC in the next two weeks and if there continues to be good progress, we will get even more relaxations.” concluded Minister.

Free State continues the fight against COVID-19 

The Premier of Free State; Sisi Ntombela said that the advent of COVID-19 in our country early last year has brought unspeakable damage to what was an already a struggling economy.

“The virus disrupted our way of life, in the process, claiming thousands of lives, and leaving many people in a state of despair and children orphaned. While we were caught unprepared for the pandemic, government moved with speed to ensure that we save the lives of our people whom, had we not acted in time, would have perished,”

“While every loss of life to COVID-19 is regrettable, Minister Phaahla, it is our considered view that the 6 534 we have lost to date is significantly low, and could have been much higher if we did not act on time,” continued the Premier.

“Of course, our primary responsibility is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our people, therefore these deaths have struck a massive blow to us all. We send our deepest condolences to all the affected families.” said Ntombela.

In her closing statement, the Premier said that the Free State province is located in the centre of our country and in close proximity to other provinces such as Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga. The Free State province is also closer to Lesotho, which means that there is interprovincial movement.

“Therefore we must guard against a spike in numbers in such areas. For instance, we know that in Ladybrand, we have been seeing a sharp increase in infections and areas such as Lejweleputswa, which is a mining area. Fezile Dabi district, particularly areas such as Parys, which is closer to Gauteng province, has also seen an increase in infections.” concluded Premier Ntombela.