REMARKS BY MINISTER OF HEALTH, DR JOE PHAAHLA DURING VIRTUAL MEDIA BRIEFING PROGRAMME ON THE UPDATE OF SA – 03 DECEMBER 2021
Thanks to Program Director Mr Foster Mohale
Morning to Deputy Minister Dr Dhlomo,
Our guests, Dr Waasila Jassat and Dr Michelle Groom from NICD
Dr Ntsaki Maluleke, from Gauteng Province
Team from NDOH led by DG Dr Sandile Buthelezi
Members of the media
Good morning to all South Africans
Eight days ago we announced together with our medical scientists led by Professor Tulio De Oliviera that they had identified a COVID-19 variant which could be associated with a sudden rise in new infections.
About 7-10 days earlier we started to recognize a steady rise in new infections from the lows 200-300 cases per day to steady rising to 500-600 , 700-800 and then above 1000 per day. Analysis of the geographic distribution showed that these were limited to Gauteng and mainly Tshwane metro and even some subdistricts and linked to a cluster at TUT campus and few other areas.
The confirmation of the Omicron variant in the Tshwane cluster explained the steep rise which already by last Thursday when we reported had spread to Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and slightly to Sedibeng and West Rand districts.
It is now history that the WHO confirmed it as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. We again want to thank our team in the Genomic and Surveillance Network for their hard work and diligence.
It is a matter of regret and reflection of hypocrisy from a number of countries leaders that without exception they sing praises of our expertise and openness but they slap us with travel bans including our SADC neighbours.
Over the last seven days we have expressed our own outrage and disappointment at this misguided and counterproductive actions.
We thank the vast majority of nations which have not followed these destructive path which undermines international cooperation and solidarity in the common fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and others still coming including more variants of this virus.
As we were entering the second wave of COVID-19 around this time last year 2020, our scientists led by Prof Salim Abdul Karim told us that we should expect more mutations leading to variants, some quite serious. At the time we were being introduced to the Beta variant. They warned that new variants would generally be more transmissible but tend to be less severe.
Today as we enter the fourth wave with a new variant we can see confirmation of that. We have moved from a total of 2465 new cases last Thursday afternoon to 11535 yesterday afternoon and increase by 9000 new cases per day within seven days.
What we can say is that we knew the fourth wave was coming but we didn’t know how soon and what special characteristics it would come with.
As can be seen from the numbers over the last seven days and the curve depicting them, there is a much steeper upward curve than has ever been seen in the last three waves.
What we must reemphasize is that while our scientists and those in Botswana were first discover and report on the variants, no one knows where it originated from.
We know that gatherings and social activities like parties drive the spread it was the same in this case with clusters ignited by students at TUT and elsewhere in Tshwane.
Over the last seven days the new spike has moved into Gauteng and it is also registering presence in all nine provinces with numbers rising in Western Cape, KZN, Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga with high positivity rates with only Free State and Northern Cape still showing relatively low numbers.
As will be confirmed by the NICD, while we are still dealing with few days and limited data, indications are that this variant is highly transmissible including infecting a few people who are vaccinated but causing mostly mild illness especially for those who are vaccinated, with hospital admissions dominated by those who are not vaccinated and young people below 40 years most of whom are not vaccinated.
At this stage we can say that even in Gauteng which accounts for 72% – 80 % of new daily infections we have not yet reached threatening stage of hospital capacity with new admissions.
The total current active cases stand at 47 324 with hospital admissions at 2 904 with significant spare capacity in both public and private facilities.
New cases increased by more than 300% in last seven days, positivity was 22% yesterday up from 1-2% two weeks ago. At this stage the trend is rapid rise in cases but hope mild cases will continue to dominate.
The Gauteng team and our national team will confirm that we are doing everything possible to make sure that we can handle provision of services for those who will become seriously ill.
One challenge is that even though most vaccinated health workers who catch the virus have mild symptoms, they still have to isolate leading to shortages which we will have to address.
We want to appeal to all South Africans that the time has come to be more vigilant apply all the health and safety measures we know very well ie wearing of masks, hand washing and sanitizing , physical distance, avoiding crowds and good ventilation.
Above all these let us all use the available vaccination opportunities. We applaud all South Africans who have come forward to be vaccinated.
As of last night, just over 16,7million of us had been vaccinated with over 26,1million doses administered. 42, 14% of all adults have received at least one jab wit 14,64million which is 36, 8% fully vaccinated.
As of yesterday the Free State province became the first one to reach 50% of all adults with at least one jab, and the Western Cape should cross that benchmark today, with Limpopo and Eastern Cape on their heels at 48% coverage.
We call upon all those who have not completed full vaccination and are over due to please go to their nearest vaccination site to be fully protected.
As we know by now all adults and all children 12 years and above are eligible for vaccination. This fourth wave which we have started can be managed without too many casualties and loss of lives, if we observe safety measures, the biggest risk being gatherings especially indoors.
We are blessed with warm weather so if we need to gather for whatever reason let’s do it outside or with full fresh air, with only cover for the hot sun and even outside at night.
But above all, we can save our loved ones, friends and work colleagues by vaccinating. While there are still many questions around Omicron, the evidence thus far is clear that like all previous variants, our best protection against serious illness and death is vaccination.
Remember that no one ever said vaccination will prevent the virus from entering our bodies, but that even if it does enter, we are 80-90% likely to have mild illness.
Vaccination is not just an option but a matter of saving our lives, our livelihood and the lives of our gallant health workers and the nation as a whole.
We wish our health workers all the strength, fortitude and protection in these tough days laying ahead, let us all protect our health work force by vaccinating.
Let’s Vooma this weekend and week as part of safety and patriotism.
I thank you