Police vaccinations fast-tracked so Covid-19 enforcement can intensify
Covid-19 vaccinations for the police are being fast-tracked before a crackdown on compliance with Covid-19 regulations, acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi told TimesLIVE on Friday.
The details of 80% of police officers had already been transferred from the public service salary system to the vaccination registration system, said Kubayi. This is the same method used to register teachers.
Kubayi said she hoped to start vaccinating police officers by July 1. “I am really pushing for the police, and you understand that this is because of the current management of the pandemic in Gauteng,” she said, bemoaning the level of compliance with regulations on gatherings, distancing and mask-wearing.
“I don’t know whether people don’t care or people think if they wear a mask that they are doing the government a favour,” Kubayi said in an interview.
“People think that by protecting themselves, they are protecting the government and that is not the case. We are going to feel the effects of the pandemic in years to come where you find in communities that there are no parents and there are only child-headed households.”
Sixty-nine weeks into the pandemic, Gauteng's new infections are setting new daily records, and health experts believe a combination of Covid-19 fatigue, poor planning and a lack of social responsibility is responsible.
The Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), SA Police Service and Gauteng Traffic Police will embark on integrated operations to intensify enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, said JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar.
But health experts said this sort of reactive approach is the reason the third wave has taken hold and accelerated so rapidly.
Public health expert and acting deputy vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Prof Mosa Moshabela said the responsibility of citizens had dwindled due to Covid-19 fatigue.
“People are fed up, they just can't take it any more because their options are limited. It's almost like we've absorbed as much of this pressure and can't take it any more,” he said.
“People are so drained emotionally they don't want fearmongering. We cannot use strategies that predispose them to feelings of fear, they cannot cope with that. But at the same time if you have to get them to cope without evoking fear, you have to evoke a sense of responsibility.”
Prof Soraya Seedat, head of psychiatry at Stellenbosch University, said Covid-19 “is a fairly universal phenomenon across countries that have seen a resurgence/several waves of infection”.
She added: “Adherence to protective measures has dropped over time. This is contributing to both new infections and reinfections in individuals who have had Covid-19 before and in those who have been vaccinated.
“It’s a natural human reaction because the pandemic has been so long. This is because mask-wearing and physical distancing and other additional hygiene and restrictive measures require mental effort and control from us all. This is a cost that we have all had to bear.
“It is normal for people to weigh up the benefits with the cost like the discomfort and infringement on their lives, and to change their beliefs about the value of these protective behaviours. Therefore, with the passage of time we may have more doubts about the effectiveness of these behaviours.
“We need to appeal to South Africans to comply but not apportion blame, instil fear or threaten those who do not want to comply as the latter will not serve to change behaviour. We also need to identify and then target those groups like teenagers who may have low adherence and low risk perception related to Covid-19.
“In addition, engaging trusted voices in communities — community leaders and the faith based sector — to aggressively promote protective behaviours.”
Josias Naidoo of NGO Hope4Health said SA is experiencing a combination of Covid-19 fatigue and poor planning.
“The lack of clear and current information about the virus and its variants adds to the issue as people tend to believe that we may be winning the war against Covid-19,” he said.
“Prevention remains the cheapest, most practical and most effective solution to containing this virus,” he said. “This means that despite its long duration, we should be more committed to doing our best to keep in the habit of being more cautious so that we don't upend the efforts of our health system.”
Kubayi said she is against intensifying the lockdown restrictions in terms of compliance with the current alert level three regulations.
“The alert level three regulations have not been enforced,” she said. “I do sympathise with the police because they feel that they have to go out there. We are losing them and many of them are getting sick.
“So that is why we are trying to push and we are hoping that by Tuesday or Wednesday we should be making an announcement about the police.
But she was also critical of gatherings such as the EFF's vaccination march in Johannesburg on Friday.
“What type of a leader puts the lives of those who support you at risk like this?” she said. “For some of these people, where they stay there is no option of isolating if they get sick.
“They are going to infect their entire families. You are not putting one person at risk but the entire family and community.”
Infections were being compounded by poor behaviour, she said. “People used to be cautious when there is a death in the family and I am not so sure now. People are back to visiting the grieving families and we are not doing the drive-throughs any more, and this is worrying.