1. I wish to open this press briefing first by acknowledging the grave situation we find ourselves in as a country, as we battle a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Allow me to express my deep appreciation to the frontline healthcare workers who continue to fight, wave after wave, for our people. I am certain that at this point, our healthcare workers are tapping into the most profound depths of strength, resilience and compassion – despite being exhausted and mentally drained by a 15-month long war. We celebrate our heroes and dip our banners to those that fell in the line of duty.

3. It brings me comfort, therefore, to know that our health workers are protected – the vast majority have been vaccinated and we have adequate stock of PPE, thanks to the generous donations of multilateral organizations like the Global Fund and Solidarity Fund. It is also important to acknowledge the close working relationship between treasury and Department of Health to ensure adequate funding for PPE’s and a sound Stock Visibility System, which allows not only our officials to monitor PPE stock, but where Occupational Health and Safety and union members have also been granted access. In this regard, PPEs are managed by a collective that puts the safety of our valued health care workers at the top of the agenda.

4. We know that the current wave is largely driven by the surge in Gauteng: yesterday the Province recorded 9 521 new cases, accounting for 59 per cent of the new cases. The next most affected province is Western Cape at 12 per cent of new cases on the same day.

5. The 7-day moving average graph now clearly shows that in Gauteng, this wave has passed the first two waves.

6. There should be no sense of complacency in other provinces which are all demonstrating upward trajectories and it is inevitable that the wave in Gauteng will spill over into the rest of the country.

7. As national Department of Health, we have activated our surge response, which is executed together with the WHO Surge Team deployed to South Africa.

8. The department developed a practical guide for provincial health departments, outlining the steps that should be followed on how to respond to COVID-19 after the second wave. This document contains actionable items described in the National Plan for COVID-19 Health Response: South Africa.

9. There are 10 intervention areas that provinces must prepare to aid in the resurgence preparations and response. The areas are:

Governance and leadership
Medical supplies
Port and Environmental Health
Epidemiology and response
Facility readiness
Case management
Risk communication and community engagement
Occupational health and safety
Infection Prevention and Control
Human resources for health

10. Each intervention area and action items have been identified specifically for each level of infection.

11. We also monitor the following key parameters at a national level relating to the pandemic:
Daily infection rate
Admission rates
Mortality rates
Oxygen availability
PPE availability
Medicine availability

12. Where there are challenges, we alert the province to the impending risk and encourage them to address the matter. Yesterday we had a meeting with Gauteng to confront the pressure they are facing with this wave and comprehensively deal with the drivers of this current wave, strategic case management and effective containment measures.

13. I will also be meeting with the MAC on COVID-19 tomorrow following an advisory where they have sharply raised issues that need critical and urgent intervention.

14. I have asked Dr Anban Pillay and a representative from Gauteng Province to join us and detail how national and provincial Departments of Health are implementing the surge response strategies and they will give presentations in a short while.

15. Yesterday, I joined Minister Mbalula and Minister Ntshavheni on compliance monitoring in Tshwane, and what is important is to continue to emphasise not only the wearing of the mask all the time in public but wearing the mask correctly.

On Vaccine Roll-Out

16. Part of the surge response is accelerating the vaccine rollout.

17. I am encouraged that we have passed the two million mark for the national rollout campaign and that we have now vaccinated a total of 2 550 248 as at 17:00 yesterday.

18. The programme for the education sector began on Wednesday and I must congratulate provinces for vaccinating nearly around 50 000 a day for the past two days – at this rate we will finish the sector in 10 days as we had hoped.

19. I do acknowledge that there are educators in the Early Childhood Development sector and the Post Schooling system who felt left out on this programme and assure them that work is underway with the Department of Social Development and Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation for their roll out. The sector operates differently from basic education and it was not practically possible to include them as part of the basic education sector programme.

20. The vaccination of the education sector has pushed our daily vaccination numbers beyond the 100 000 mark. We are really pleased about this and, with the anticipated flow of vaccines to come, we are now confident that we will be building towards that 300 000 daily mark target that the President has set for us.

21. However, we are very worried that the demand from the 60+ age group is reducing exponentially. As a group that is most at risk, we cannot give up on netting the vast majority of this group. We understand that this manifestation is a combination of high vaccine hesitancy in this group and difficultly accessing the technology to register, as well as the vaccination centres. We are now finalising plans to take vaccines to the people to ensure that we find all our senior citizens and vaccinate them for their own protection and to reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
22. Learning out of what Limpopo Province has been doing, the IMC on vaccine this week approved that provincial health department must drive “coordinated walk-ins” to cater for these category of the population where necessary

23. Further, evidence has emerged that vaccination reduces transmission. On 23 June 2021, the New England Journal of Medicine issued a highly anticipated publication, showing significant reduction in transmission in households where there were vaccinated household members compared to households where no-one was vaccinated. It even showed that the benefit was seen even if the household members only had one out of two vaccines. Professor Barry Schoub, Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, is here to explain these findings further and give us the background science.

24. And so, I wanted to highlight this because this means that if you vaccinate, you will reduce the chances of passing on the virus to your loved ones that you are close to. I hope this will motivate our senior citizens and all those who will get their turn to vaccinate.

25. I pleased to announce that the IMC on Vaccine approved that from 1 July 2021 we will open registrations for all citizens aged 50 years and above and we will schedule those vaccinations to begin on 15 July. I encourage all these citizens to register and vaccinate. If you have a friend, family member, neighbor or loved one who is 60 years and above and is yet to vaccinate or register, please bring them along.

26. We are expecting more vaccines to come: Pfizer has delivered nearly 4,5 million doses as promised in Quarter 2. They committed just over 15,5 million doses in Quarter three, of which we are expecting nearly 2,1 million doses in July. Johnson and Johnson have so far delivered 500 000 early access doses used for Sisonke, 300 000 market doses last week and 1,2 million doses landed last night. These doses all need to be used by 11 August. We are awaiting confirmation for delivery of 500 000 doses (these expire later than the previous doses mentioned) and this then makes up the 2 million to replace those that were lost to the contamination incident.

27. With this flow of vaccines, we will be able to press ahead with the vaccination of frontline workers sector by sector.

28. We will then move onto workplace vaccinations – both formal and informal sectors like the taxi industry. We will take guidance from the MAC on COVID-19 on which of these sectors to prioritize and move along until all work-based vaccinations are completed.

29. So, in summary, we are running three parallel processes in phase two, as per our overall strategy: general population registration and vaccination; priority services sector vaccination and workplace vaccination in key economic sectors. Dr Nicholas Crisp will come in later to provide finer details on how these programmes will be run.

30. Before I close, I just want to touch on two concerns which members of the public have raised.

31. Firstly, on the issue of the Sisonke trial as Professor Gray outlined in the last press briefing, although the study results have not yet been concluded, preliminary results show clear evidence of reduced moderate to severe illness and death in the vaccinated cohort, which in this case was health care workers. There is clear evidence that vaccines work. So far, there are no deaths recorded related to the vaccine itself. There were a few Vaccine Induced Thrombotic Events, which were all very well detected and managed by our expert clinicians. Overall, this study provides confidence that the vaccine confers high levels of protection to those who have been inoculated with it.

32. The second concern I want to touch on is that of Pfizer and reports of heart inflammation in young men. These events are rare and Pfizer has decided to include this as a warning in the product label. I have been reassured by our experts that the vast majority, if not all cases, that have been reported were mild with short hospital stays and that there have been no reports in South Africa. We will of course watch the space closely when we vaccinate large numbers of the general population in those younger age groups. Pfizer is still considered safe and effective for all population groups above the age of 12 years. Professor Barry Schoub will also touch on this a little later.
33. Lastly, I wish to address the issue of COVAX and our position as a country in response to the recent developments that were announced. We believe that COVAX is still a very useful facility for low- and
middle-income countries. For South Africa, we will continue to ensure that we get the best out of COVAX, however we have adopted a diversified approach to procuring vaccines so that we do not “put our eggs in one basket” as we have been falsely accused. As co-chairs of the ACT- Accelerator, we continue to support the efforts of COVAX in securing vaccines for our less fortunate brother and sisters, particularly on this continent. We therefore wish to ease any anxiety surrounding the dynamic mechanics of COVAX and reassure the nation that we remain in control of our vaccine fortunes as a sovereign nation.

34. I have one final announcement: Last night the interactive dashboard for vaccinations went live. Ms. Milani Wolmarans will do a short demonstration to show us how we can best extras information from the dashboard. This is the first iteration of the interactive dashboard and will continue to be improved as we receive feedback from users.

35. Now it finally remains for me to beg residents in South Africa to join us, the government and the health care workers in the fight against COVID-19. The virus is still with us and there always comes a point in a crisis where each and every person has to take control and choose to win. We have always been a resilient nation – we defeated colonialism, we defeated apartheid and we can defeat COVID-19. We must protect our lives and livelihoods together.

36. I now welcome the Minister of Public Service and Administration, the Honorable Senzo Mchunu to deliver his remarks.