SPEAKING NOTES BY MINISTER OF HEALTH, DR JOE PHAAHLA DURING VIRTUAL MEDIA BRIEFING PROGRAMME ON THE UPDATE OF SA – 17 DECEMBER 2021
Thanks to Program Facilitator Mr Foster Mohale
Morning to Deputy Minister Dr Dhlomo
Dr Waasila Jassat and Dr Michelle Groom from NICD
Dr Keith Cloete: WC Health Department Head
Dr Sandile Tshabalala: KZN Health Department Head
Prof Tim Hardcastle: Head of Trauma Unit, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital
Team from NDOH led by Director General Dr Sandile Buthelezi
Members of the media
Our viewers and listeners at home
Good morning to all South Africans
This Friday 17th December, a day after 16th December, Reconciliation Day holiday, is traditionally the last working day for many industries in South Africa as we head towards the Christmas and New Year festive period.
This is the second festive season we go into while we are in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic as was the case last year. However, we hope that today’s briefing will provide all of us with a context of the extent of the challenges we face, how government is trying to make sure that we can help those who will require medical assistance as a result of the pandemic, but more importantly how we can work together to make sure that we have a safe festive season under pandemic conditions.
Since our briefing last week Friday, the fourth wave which is driven by the Omicron variant has continued to spread rapidly across the country and the world. Last week we mentioned that the variant had been detected in 57 countries, and today the World Health Organization reports detection in 76 countries.
In our country, all nine provinces are essentially in the fourth wave although the Northern Cape is technically just about to enter fully. While Gauteng province is still reporting the highest number of new cases per day, the numbers have risen rapidly in the coastal provinces and in all nine provinces resulting in Gauteng accounting for 25% of new infections yesterday compared to 70-80% of cases 7-10 days ago.
The number of cases in the fourth wave has exceeded the peaks of the 3rd, 2nd and 1st waves with a weekly average new infections of more than 37/ 100 000 of population while the peak of 3rd wave was about 33/ 100 000, 2nd wave 32/ 100 000 and 1st wave 21/ 100 000.
The positivity rate has also risen steeply across the country with yesterday’s average of 31% positive. Eight provinces recorded positivity of 30% and above, with only Gauteng below 30% at 25%. In the last seven days, new cases have increased by 36,6%. Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Northern Cape have shown more than 100% increase in daily new cases compared to seven days earlier which confirms a rapid increase nationwide.
As of yesterday, active cases were 210 635 which is 10% increase in 24 hours. The good news is, recovery rate is at 91%.
In terms of hospitalisation, due to the low levels at the end of the 3rd wave, we are now seeing a significant rise in hospital admissions. Over the last seven days there has been a 70% rise in admissions, even though total admissions as of yesterday were still low at 7 614.
In comparison to the 4th wave, weekly average hospital admissions were significantly lower than the average weekly admissions in the 3rd wave during the 1st two weeks of each wave.
In the 2nd week of the 3rd wave (17- 24 June 2021), there were an average of 4 485 new cases per day and 888 hospitalisations, representing 19% of all COVID-19 cases that were hospitalised.
In the 2nd week of the 4th wave (9-15th December 2021) the average of new cases per day was 20 207 and 348 hospitalisations which is 1,7% of COVID-19 cases hospitalised. Although there is rapid rise in hospitalisation, and majority are mild.
In terms of case numbers and percentage of testing positive, we are seeing a decrease in Gauteng, and early indications suggest that the peak has been reached, but there is rapid increase in the other provinces. The mildness of disease may not necessarily mean that the virus is less virulent, but may also be due to the significant vaccine coverage of over 60’s at 66% and over 50’s at 61% and national adult coverage of 44%.
We are very worried about the drastic decline in uptake of vaccines especially in the last 7-10 days with daily doses average between 100 000 to 130 000.
The COVID-19 virus is still going to be with us for a long time and the only way to reduce its power with a possibility of permanent defeat and a return to normal life, is through vaccination and compliance with prevention and treatment protocols at all times.
Over the next few days many of us will be moving from places of work in the cities to our rural places and holiday destinations. We will be celebrating Christmas and New Year with relatives and friends. We will be travelling for many hours in private and public cars, taxis, buses, trains and aeroplanes.
As we do so, we urge everyone to observe the known Personal Health and Safety Measures of wearing masks, hand washing and sanitising, physical distancing and avoiding crowds especially in enclosed settings, but above all by making sure that we are vaccinated.
A number of fixed vaccination sites will remain open and provinces will also provide pop up sites in many places such as shopping malls.
We also call upon all South Africans to celebrate responsibly especially with regard to alcohol consumption. Our health facilities are already under a lot of pressure with COVID-19 and other existing health conditions. The last thing we cannot afford to handle is large numbers of casualties from MVA’s and assaults. Our health care workers are physically and emotionally exhausted, please let us feel for them by behaving responsibly.
Again let me on behalf of the people of our country express our gratitude to the Health Care Workers who continue to sacrifice their own health and time that of their families and risk their lives while carrying for all of us. Let us honour them and protect them by vaccinating and spending our holidays responsibly. The health department will advise the NCCC in the next few days as to whether we should review the restrictions.
If we all do our part, we can still have an enjoyable festive season.
It is in our hands let us grab the opportunity, Jab before you Joll and Jive!!!
I Thank You