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Eastern Cape cases triple in five days while premier orders municipalities to accelerate vaccination drive

Eastern Cape cases triple in five days while premier orders municipalities to accelerate vaccination drive
Thousands of people are returning to the Eastern Cape for the festive season from Gauteng and the Western Cape, where Covid-19 case numbers are higher. Above, Avuyile Gqitywa waits for her family after arriving from Cape Town at Circus Triangle Bus Station in Mthatha. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has ordered municipalities to take a stronger role in the vaccination process and has set a target of vaccinating 1,000 people a day in each of the province’s 39 districts.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has decentralised the province’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, saying municipalities must stop treating it as a health problem and start treating it as part of their disaster management efforts.

Mabuyane, speaking on Tuesday, said his government also felt that it was time for mandatory vaccine policies to be implemented for public spaces and workplaces.

eastern cape coronavirus

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Lubabalo Mabuyane. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly in Eastern Cape, with about half of the cases concentrated in the two metros, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. According to statistics from the Eastern Cape Department of Health, the number of active cases had tripled from about 2,000 on 9 December 2021 to 6,368 on Tuesday, 14 December.

Mabuyane said residents of the two metros where the virus is spreading most rapidly should “take extra care” during the festive season. The Omicron Covid-19 variant, driving the fourth wave in South Africa, has been found to be more transmissible than the variants before it.

As  thousands of people return to the Eastern Cape from Gauteng and the Western Cape, where cases are higher, Mabuyane said the provincial government had to accept travellers in the festive season as the Eastern Cape is a “labour-sending province”. He added that the numbers of positive coronavirus cases were exactly as anticipated.

Mabuyane said it was time for a policy that those who did not get vaccinated would not be allowed to go out in public. He called on event organisers to strictly enforce physical distancing and the wearing of masks. 

“Gatherings are a dangerous place to be this festive season,” the premier said.

He said people should make serious decisions about their attendance at these gatherings as the virus could spread very quickly where many people were together.

He urged the organisers of gatherings to make sure that attendees adhered to non-pharmaceutical protocols such as wearing masks, sanitising their hands and maintaining social distance.

“If you are not vaccinated,” Mabuyane said, “you stand a high risk of ending up in hospital or ending up in heaven.”

He said currently only around 10% of the province’s Covid-19 hospital beds were being used and there was a low demand for oxygen, adding that increases in severe cases would spell trouble for the Eastern Cape.

During the first two waves, the province saw record-breaking death rates that had been under investigation by the World Health Organization. Earlier in December, Dr Rolene Wagner, the director-general of the Eastern Cape Department of Health, said one of the main causes of this was that people did not get to hospitals soon enough. 

Mabuyane said it was time for mandatory vaccines, as “some people continue as if it is business as usual in the middle of a war”.

Mabuyane has decided that vaccination must also be driven by municipalities’ war rooms set up to handle disaster management for the Covid-19 outbreak in the province with the support of the Department of Health. 

Several of the province’s municipalities are under some form of administration or in dire financial straits. 

The premier said they were having greater success with vaccination campaigns in the rural areas than in the metros. If each municipality vaccinated 1,000 people a day the province could vaccinate 39,000 people every 24 hours, he added.

“We must unleash the entire provincial leadership,” he said. 

The MEC for Health, Nomakhosazana Meth, said there was a perception in the Eastern Cape that there was no more Covid-19.

eastern cape coronavirus

Eastern Cape MEC for Health Nomakhosazana Meth. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“We are trying everything we can [to get people to vaccinate],” she said, adding that due to financial constraints the province’s health officials at times did not have vehicles to go to rural areas. 

She said municipalities were treating vaccinations as a health issue and not as a disaster. 

“Where they are hands-on, we have seen great progress,” she said. 

Meth said she was particularly worried about the 12 to 17 age group, for which vaccination rates remain low. 

The province has so far vaccinated just above 49% of eligible residents. 

Meth said the positivity rate in the province (percentage of samples testing positive for Covid-19) was 16%. DM/MC

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