While Covid continues to flare up across the country with all nine provinces of South Africa now in the grip of the fourth wave, experts say an interprovincial travel ban or tighter lockdown restrictions would make no sense as it was already too late for those measures.
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said they were very worried about the drastic decline in vaccinations, especially in the last seven to 10 days, with daily doses on average between 100 000 to 130 000, and active cases seeing a 10% increase in 24 hours as of on Friday.
“The positivity rate has also risen steeply across the country with Friday’s average of 31% positive. Eight provinces recorded positivity of 30% and above, with only Gauteng below 30% at 25%,” he added.
“The Covid virus is going to be with us for a long time and the only way to reduce its power with a possibility of permanent defeat and a return to normal life is vaccination – through vaccination and compliance with prevention
and treatment protocols.
“We also call upon all South Africans to celebrate responsibly, especially with regard to alcohol consumption. Our health facilities are already under a lot of pressure with Covid and other existing health conditions,” Phaahla said.
“We cannot afford to handle large numbers of casualties from MVAs [motor vehicle accidents] and assaults. Our health care workers are physically and emotionally exhausted. If we all do our part, we can still have an enjoyable festive season. It is in our hands let us grab the opportunity. Jab before you jol and jive.”
As Phaahla gears up for a meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council in the next few days, epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes said the best chance of flattening the curve would be increasing the rate of vaccinations.
“The omicron variant is extremely efficient at spreading and infecting people. It has already spread across South Africa, so interprovincial travel bans would not help to stop the spread,” Barnes said.
Barnes added she has seen no effort from the authorities to address one of the most important measures to curb the spread, which was to improve ventilation in public buildings.
“There seem to be no effort to take interim measures to ensure improved air quality in shops, malls, public buildings, etc. This is a serious omission,” she said. Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s prof Glenda Davison said an inter-provincial travel ban and tighter lockdown restrictions were not necessary, but restricting indoor gatherings was essential.
“Yes, all the other provinces are entering the fourth wave and because this omicron variant is already all over the
country, interprovincial bans does not make sense,” she said.
“The main focus should be on increasing vaccinations and urging everyone to wear masks and obey Covid regulations.”
She said over the next few days many people would be moving from cities to rural areas and holiday destinations, while also attending large social gatherings, which could be superspreader events.
“We call upon all travellers, especially those who are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated coming from areas declared
hotspots, to get vaccinated to protect their families and friends,” Phaahla said.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ Dr Michelle Groome said while there was an increasing number of new daily cases in many provinces, Gauteng was starting to see a decrease.
“We had this really rapid increase, which has levelled off, and now we are starting to see a decrease in the percent positivity,” she said.