The acting Minister of Health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane on Friday said there must be consequences for those organising illegal gatherings in terms of current disaster regulation restrictions. She said these gatherings “remain a serious concern for us”, with veiled references to plans by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to march to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority on Friday, and after supporters of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule had gathered outside the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday, even though court proceedings were held virtually amid the Third Wave that has gripped Gauteng. Court proceedings continued – online – on Friday.
Kubayi-Ngubane said it was not clear at this stage if the massive surge of coronavirus infections in Gauteng was due to a variant (the Delta variant first found in India most likely) or human behaviour. She added, however, she believed that the time has come for those who organise large public gatherings, to face consequences. Protocols and regulations are in place for public gatherings, which are limited to 100 people outdoors and 50 people or less indoors.
While confirming that vaccine registration for those over 50 will open on 1 July she added that if “we move swiftly” those over 40 will be next in line by August.
She said with a day-on-day increase of over 9,000 new cases in Gauteng, the province has now surpassed the number of infections seen in the first two waves.
“Other provinces should not have a sense of complacency. It is inevitable that the current wave in Gauteng would spill over to the rest of the country,” she added.
Kubayi-Ngubane also said that she had a meeting with the Gauteng Department of Health and will meet with the Ministerial Advisory Committee tomorrow to discuss an advisory on critical areas and interventions.
She said the country has so far vaccinated 2.5 million people including 50,000 teachers a day for the past two days. She said it was possible to finish the basic education sector within 10 days.
She also expressed her concern over the continuous slow uptake of the vaccine in those over 60 years of age. Kubayi-Ngubane said they believed this can be a combination of having difficulties in accessing technology coupled with vaccine hesitancy, adding that they hoped coordinated walk-ins being allowed at provincial level will address the issue.
The Department of Health has also now launched an interactive dashboard showing updated vaccination stats.
Kubayi-Ngubane said as a government they were pleading with the people of South Africa to adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.
Health Department Deputy Director-General Dr Anban Pillay said the picture they have received from the consortium compiling the latest models on the current outbreak “was not very good” with increases anticipated in all provinces but the Free State.
“Gauteng is very much in the red zone with pressure on hospitals,” Pillay said.
He explained that the outbreak in Gauteng was driving the national increase in cases and currently accounts for 66% of all positive results with 24% of tests being positive.
He said oxygen supply remains sufficient and under control.
Another deputy director in the department, currently overseeing the vaccine registration and distribution process, Dr Nicholas Crisp, said the constraint on the supply of vaccines has eased for the first time.
Crisp said to their surprise the registration in rural areas has by far been better than in cities.
“In urban areas, we are battling with less than 35% (of over 60s) being registered,” he said. “We expected that access to the internet and English literacy would translate to more registrations in the urban areas but this is not the case,” he said.
He said they are now loading the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) for vaccine registration in five additional languages.
He added that the supply of vaccines was no longer constrained and they will be able to vaccinate more people and get to the target set by President Cyril Ramaphosa of 300,000 vaccines a day by August.
Crisp said the rollout of vaccines to teachers were going “remarkably well” and that there has been a “fantastic uptake”.
He added that they were in the advanced stages of planning a similar roll-out to the police, correctional services, the Department of Justice, those working at border posts and officials from the South African Social Security Agency.
Crisp said their third strategy was to start a roll-out in workplaces where social distancing was difficult.
He said they also want to increase the number of uninsured people that can access vaccines at private sector sites, as in many places the “demand” for vaccines from the private sector had been satisfied.
“It was an extremely difficult start to the programme because of supply constraints,” he said but explained that in the last week both the pipelines for the Pfizer vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “have opened up”.
“The Pfizer pipeline is very stable,” he said but explained that they have not yet received a delivery schedule from Johnson & Johnson. He confirmed though that another 1.5 million vaccines have been received with another 500,000 expected next week or the week thereafter. These, Crisp explained, makes up for the doses that were lost after concerns of a possible contamination of ingredients were raised by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.
Crisp said 3.5 million people have registered on the EVDS so far and 2.5 million have been vaccinated. “The queue is still one million long. This is a challenge for those who do not have sites near to where they live.”
He added that with the easing of supply constraints they should be able to reach those who have not received the jab yet quickly.
Prof Barry Schoub — the chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 vaccines — said a “significant and interesting” study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, has shown that the likelihood of a vaccinated person spreading the coronavirus to others drops significantly, by up to 40%.
He said a number of cases of myocarditis, the inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall, linked to the Pfizer vaccine have been reported.
Schoub said the incidence of this side-effect was low, around 12.6 in a million doses and the cases were mild. This side-effect was only recorded so far in men and adolescent males.
“It is a recognised side-effect, but it is extremely rare and mostly mild,” he said. DM/MC