Fourth wave: There’s light at the end of this tunnel
Gauteng has officially exited the fourth wave, while the rest of the provinces have reached their peak and are now on ‘steady decline’, the health minister said on Friday.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla told the media during a briefing on the government’s efforts in the fight against Covid-19 and the vaccine rollout programme on Friday that the fourth wave is showing “unequivocally” that vaccines protect against severe illness and death.
Phaahla said the full vaccination of at least 70% of South Africa’s adult population remains the Department of Health’s “main priority”.
Urging members of the public to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, after a significant drop in doses administered over the festive season, Phaahla said: “I wish to reiterate that the protection of vaccines against severe illnesses is uncontested, as we can see now with the fourth wave, and as we saw with the protection of health workers and educators in the third wave.”
The minister’s pleas come as several provinces have reached their peak of fourth wave Covid-19 infections, with Gauteng officially exiting the fourth wave this week.
As of Thursday evening, the cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa stood at 3,546,808.
“These are laboratory-confirmed cases and, as we know, are an underestimation of the true number of infections in South Africa,” Dr Michelle Groome, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said during Friday’s briefing.
In the first week of 2022, South Africa saw a 13.9% reduction in the number of new cases, which was 46,680 new Covid-19 cases – compared to the last week of 2021, which had 54,191 new cases, according to Phaahla.
As of Thursday evening, there was a 27.4% reduction in new cases nationally compared to seven days before, and the reduction is in all provinces, said Phaahla. The number of active cases was 106,883 – a 22.7% reduction compared to 24 hours earlier.
“In the past week, the Western Cape had the highest number of new cases followed by KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” said Phaahla. “All other provinces accounted for only 11% of cases,” he said.
Phaahla added that Gauteng was the first province to reach its peak. “Gauteng province has officially exited the fourth wave this week, and all the other eight provinces have reached their peaks and are now on a steady decline.”
There has also been a 4.8% reduction in reported deaths over the past seven days. “Hospital admissions were rising in the middle of December when we provided our last update, but have been on a steady decline since the last week of December.
“Overall admissions to hospital over this fourth wave have been much lower than the previous three waves,” said Phaahla.
Hospital admissions were down 6.3% compared to seven days prior, despite Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and Western Cape having reported an increase in admissions.
“Notwithstanding the reduced severity overall, the Omicron variant is still very deadly, especially for people of advanced age and also people with comorbidities, and the unvaccinated,” said Phaahla.
“Our vaccination programme has struggled over the festive season,” said Phaahla.
“As we reported on 17 December, all provinces took steps to improve access, with mobile and pop-up sites at places such as toll gates, roadblocks and shopping malls, and even at the beachfront in Durban.
“The uptake of these opportunities were not as big as we’d hoped, as people focused on their festivities and their leisure,” said Phaahla.
Phaahla said that after a “near-total lull” in vaccinations between Christmas and New Year, “the vaccination rate has picked up slightly but is still below 100,000 doses per day”.
As of Thursday evening, 28,7 million doses of vaccines had been administered to a total of 18,4 million people, said Phaahla. This translates to 45.5% of all adults above the age of 18 having received at least one jab, he added.
“Those who are fully vaccinated stood at 15,9 million, which constitutes 40% of our adult population,” said Phaahla.
The Free State is currently leading in terms of vaccination coverage at 54.1%, followed by the Western Cape at 53.6%, Limpopo at 52.2%, and the Eastern Cape at 50%.
These four provinces have passed 50% coverage of the adult population with at least one jab. “At the bottom of the ladder is Mpumalanga at 39.5%, and KwaZulu-Natal at 39%,” he added.
As of Thursday evening, Gauteng had administered more than 8 million doses, “which is a significant milestone”, said Phaahla.
“The challenge for Gauteng is that they are dealing with a huge population,” he said.
“So despite administering 8 million doses, that has only covered 42.7% of Gauteng’s adult population.”
The Department of Health opened vaccinations to children between the ages of 12 and 17, on 20 October 2021. In this age group, just over 1 million doses have been administered.
In December last year, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) approved a booster shot for people over the age of 18, at least six months after their second jab.
“2022 can indeed be a better year; it’s all in our hands,” said Phaahla.
“We have seen that while we cannot predict the future trajectory of the Covid-19 virus and its variants, but learning from the way we have been able to deal with the fourth wave and the protection of vaccines, the future does look brighter, if we all do our best – that is to be vaccinated.”
The minister urged those who are not yet vaccinated to come forward to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, saying “the door to enter normal life is vaccination”.
Phaahla said the issue of vaccine mandates, under certain conditions, remains under discussion. DM
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