Wearing of masks in SA could soon be a thing of the past

As the world learns to live ‘normally’ alongside Covid-19, SA Minister of Health Dr. Joe Phaahla says the Ministerial Advice Committee recently recommended that the wearing of face masks outdoors be a thing of the past, as it is in some countries abroad.

South Africa’s National State of Disaster expires on the 15th of March 2022 and is expected to not be renewed. Phaahla is currently in discussions with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and an outcome should be known by mid-month. This could also potentially include the relaxation of other restrictions.

South Africa is currently on Adjusted Level 1 Lockdown.

In South Africa in the last week there has been a 20% reduction in new cases from 16 000 a week to 12 800 a week. The Gauteng province is still leading at 38,4% of new cases followed by the Western Cape at 20% and KwaZulu-Natal at 15,5%.

In the past week all provinces reported a decline in weekly incidence risk except for KwaZulu-Natal which showed no change.

The percentage testing positive in the last week was highest in Mpumalanga at 14% followed by the Western Cape at 12,6% , North West at 10,5% while all other provinces had a below 10% positivity rate. The percentage positive was higher in the 10-14 years of age at 21%.

The dominant variant in Republic of South Africa remains Omicron although with a subvariant called BA.2 accounting for 78% of the infections in January and February.

Currently there are 25 758 active cases which is an increase of 1,3% over the last 24hrs. In terms of districts increase has been recorded in Overberg, City of Cape Town, Frances Baard and West Coast. 12 out of 52 districts recorded increases compared to 14 days earlier

Admissions in hospitals as of yesterday stood at 2 602 which is an 8% decline over 24hrs. Over the last seven days there has been an 11% decline in hospitalisation, and 72% of admissions are unvaccinated, while 83% of the admissions are in general wards, 7.4% in high care and 9,6% in ICU. Deaths in hospital have reduced by 28% in the last seven days. Total fatalities now stand at just under 99 500 with recovery rate of 96,6%.

The major disappointment is that the rate of infections have not declined steadily as we had anticipated as we can see the recurring spikes in several districts leading to a plateau of the curve instead of flattening similar to what we reported a month ago,” Phaahla said in a virtual briefing earlier today.

“As a result the positivity has lingered between 7-10% over the last four weeks with 7% yesterday. We hope to say more sustained decline which will result in less than 5% positivity which will qualify to say the pandemic is under control”.

Vaccination continues to move steadily but still not at the desired pace. After remaining at between 60-70,000 doses per day on weekdays over most of January and February, there has been a peak over the last seven days to over 100 000 doses over the last two days after a steady rise.

As of yesterday evening, 31 879 000 doses of vaccines had been administered to 19,08 million adult individuals, constituting 47,95% coverage of adults with at least one jab, 56,5% coverage for women and 43,5% coverage for men. Individual adults fully vaccinated are at 17 million at 43% coverage.

We should be able to pass the 48% coverage over the next few days which is still a far cry from the 70% coverage required for population immunity. The 60+ cohort remain our best performers at 68% , while 50-59 age stand at 64% with over 50s at overall 60% full vaccination,” according to Phaahla.

The Free State province is still the leading province at 57,2% coverage. In terms of absolute numbers Gauteng is leading by far with 8,9m doses administered to just over 5 million people but coverage is at 45% due to big population.

Our biggest drawback is the 18-34 years age cohort with 34% coverage and 29,3% full vaccination, we need at least another 5m of this cohort to get to 60% coverage. We hope that the initiative by young people to drive the vaccination campaign of their peers which was launched two weeks ago will bear fruit. Total doses administered to the 12-17 cohort stands just over 1,65 million”.

The future of this country is in our hands, vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing severe illness and death. We have a few weeks and months to claim our place amongst nations of the world,” Phaahla concluded.

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