Third wave ebbing but no chance of easing lockdown, says Joe Phaahla

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla says hospitals remain under pressure even though the third wave of Covid-19 is easing. File photo
Picture: Freddy Mavunda

There is no prospect of the Covid-19 lockdown being eased in the near future, health minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday.

Even though the third wave of the local outbreak is in decline, Phaahla told a media briefing that SA remains “far from comfort”.

“This is no time to release restrictions and we will not be recommending a relaxation of the restrictions at this stage,” he said.

Lockdown regulations were last eased by President Cyril Ramaphosa on July 25, when the curfew was relaxed and limited alcohol sales were reintroduced.

Phaahla, the former deputy health minister who was promoted into the hot seat in Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle on August 5, said he was encouraged by the “overall continuous downward trend” over the past seven days.

Active infections were down by 7%, hospital admissions by 4.4% and the test positivity rate was down from a high of 35% in mid-July to between 19% and 20%. However, Phaahla said this was still four times the 5% recommendation by the World Health Organisation.

“Gauteng has clearly reached the peak of its third wave and is on a continuous downward slope,” he said, adding that countries around the world had learned that the pandemic was a relay race, in which the baton was continually passed between different areas.

“In this case the relay race has been picked up by the Western Cape, which is the current leader over the last seven days. It has continuously had the highest daily infections, active cases and hospitalisations,” he said.

Countrywide, “our hospitals are still under tremendous pressure. But they still have enough capacity to handle those who need care.”

Phaahla said by the end of Friday, 4-million people will have been fully vaccinated with either the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab or the double-dose Pfizer vaccine.

The interministerial committee on Covid-19 led by Deputy President David Mabuza has said it wants 70% of the adult population to be vaccinated by December.

This means another 32-million people need to be vaccinated in the next four-and-a-half months, or about 230,000 a day, seven days a week. The daily average achieved so far in August is 135,000.

Phaahla said more than 9-million vaccine doses have been administered so far, with almost 2-million being the Pfizer second dose. The Eastern Cape and Limpopo have achieved the highest vaccination rates, at 23% and 21% respectively.

Women make up 60% of those who have received vaccines, and Phaahla repeated the call for men to come forward in greater numbers. He said vaccination sites have been asked to prioritise over-50s and over-60s before September 1, when all over-18s will be eligible for a jab.

Evidence continued to mount about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and healthcare workers who received the J&J vaccine earlier in the year “have really been protected against the third wave. Those who have been infected had mild illness.”

Deaths among vaccinated people had been investigated and it had emerged that they had either been infected with Covid-19 before having the jab or had died as a result of other pre-existing illnesses.

By Dave Chambers – TimesLIVE