Acting health minister hints tighter lockdown restrictions are on the cards
MPs concerned about Gauteng hospitals
As Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the country, acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said her department will make recommendations to the national command council this week.
Kubayi-Ngubane was speaking on SABC news on Sunday, expressing concern over the increasing cases.
“We are not yet at a place where we have reached herd immunity and the increasing numbers remain a concern and the basic things that we need to do to contain the virus remain critical. The wearing of masks and sanitising of masks are still very important.
“If South Africans continue to behave recklessly, numbers will go up. We are expecting to make other pronouncements on restrictions to the national coronavirus council this week,” she said.
At the end of May, the government announced the Covid-19 lockdown was moving up one notch to level 2, which meant the night-time curfew would start an hour earlier at 11pm. It also cut the number of people allowed to gather. No more than 100 people can attend events indoors, while the number for outdoor gatherings was halved to 250.
Kubayi-Ngubane pleaded with the nation to play its part in helping the health system.
“We’ve seen how the people responded in the first and second wave and we hope they will respond the same way in the third wave,” she said.
Ngubane said South Africans tend to let their guard down when they see restrictions being eased.
“What people need to remember is that the easing of restrictions doesn’t mean the virus is gone,” she said.
Ramping up the vaccine rollout
Kubayi-Ngubane also said their second phase of the vaccine rollout could be affected by the withdrawal of some of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
She emphasised that the contaminated batches have not been used in the country.
“South Africans should not worry and panic. Those batches were never used on anyone when they were put on hold,” she said.
The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority said on Sunday that vaccines affected by the FDA decision would not be rolled out in SA, but that about 300,000 doses of the J&J vaccine are safe to use and will be shipped to SA.
The minister said about 200,000 J&J vaccines will arrive on Tuesday.
She said the government was also looking to move faster with administering vaccines, with a target of vaccinating about 250,000 people per day.
Currently, according to Kubayi-Ngubane, the country vaccinates about 165,000 people daily.
“We are in conversation with J&J to replace affected vaccines so that we can get our rollout [plan] back [on track]. In a week, we should be able to respond in detail on plans and the rollout,” she said, adding that the second phase of the rollout provided some important lessons.
The acting minister said there is a need to review how the rollout is conducted, especially after experiencing some glitches with the registration process and issuing of vouchers.
MPs concerned about Gauteng government facilities
Meanwhile, the parliamentary portfolio committee on health said the unavailability of Johannesburg's fire-damaged Charlotte Maxeke Hospital will have a negative impact on the ability of the Gauteng public health system to manage the third wave of Covid-19 infections.
The committee said it has conducted an oversight visit to Gauteng to assess the province’s healthcare facilities' readiness in rolling out phase two of the vaccination programme for over-60s as well as measures in place to manage the third wave of Covid-19 infections.
“It will be practically impossible for the province to manage the third wave without the more than 1,000 beds, which is inclusive of 124 intensive care unit beds at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. This matter needs urgent attention and we have committed as the portfolio committee to engage national ministers to see how they can assist to ensure that the facility is ready and available to assist in the management of the third wave,” said Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the chairperson of the committee.
The committee has urged all stakeholders, including the department of health both provincially and nationally, the City of Johannesburg and the department of public works and infrastructure to meet urgently to find solutions that will make it possible for the hospital to be ready and available to assist in managing Covid-19 infections.
The committee also noted that the hospital's services stretch beyond the management of Covid-19, with its speciality services that are of benefit to other provinces as well. “The continued unavailability of these services is untenable, hence the need for urgent action,” Dr Dhlomo emphasised.
The committee welcomed the intention by the Gauteng department of health to open more vaccination sites to expand access to vaccines, highlighting that the fight against the spread of Covid-19 will only be strengthened by the effective rollout of vaccines that will eventually ensure herd immunity.
The sites visited by the committee were all operational and functioning, but the committee raised concerns over the Kopanong Hospital.
“The infrastructure development that was halted almost a year ago at the Kopanong Hospital prevents the expansion of the vaccination site to ensure that it caters for an increased number of people to speed up vaccinations. The committee will interact with the Gauteng department of infrastructure to find solutions to the delays in finishing the infrastructure programme,” Dr Dhlomo said.
The committee said the shortage of water at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, Hellen Joseph Hospital and a number of community health centres was a huge concern and it called for an urgent co-operative effort by all stakeholders.