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Pandemic

'Historic day,' says minister after two years and three months of protocols

Health minister recalls SA's arduous journey during Covid-19 storm

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla recalled the past two years and three months during which the country had seen lockdowns, death, hospitalisations and devastation to the economy and other aspects of life that will not easily be forgotten or recovered from. File photo.
Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla recalled the past two years and three months during which the country had seen lockdowns, death, hospitalisations and devastation to the economy and other aspects of life that will not easily be forgotten or recovered from. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

“A historic day and major turning point.”

That is how minister of health Joe Phaahla described the scrapping of the last Covid-19 protocols, including mask-wearing, limits on indoor gatherings and testing and vaccination rules for those entering the country.

Speaking at a briefing on Thursday morning, he thanked all South Africans for their support and co-operation over two years and three months and said, “We all thought it would be a short stint and be over in a few months.”

He acknowledged that over the course of the pandemic, “fatigue and disagreement emerged” with regard to the country’s management strategy but added: “We appreciate that notwithstanding those disagreements and court actions, the mainframe of our approach did remain in place and many South Africans supported that.”

He said the country had learnt lessons that would “help us going forward in our management of other infectious diseases like TB and flu”, and acknowledged that while most celebrated the dropping of masks, others didn’t feel ready to do so.

He also recalled the journey the country has been on over the past two years and three months, starting with a meeting held on March 16 in 2020 and which culminated in a nationwide lockdown from midnight on March 19.

“From there we saw a strict stay-at-home policy,” he said. “And since then we have gone through a full four waves of the pandemic, with the first three causing major devastation and loss of life across sectors of society.”

Phaahla recalled how thousands of South Africans were unable to visit their loved ones in hospital, and honoured those who were buried under strict conditions “with only a few family members present”.

He said that as lockdowns eased a “risk-adjusted strategy” was implemented and eventually in February 2021, the Sisonke vaccine trial for health workers began, followed by the general rollout of vaccines in May the same year.

“We still have not hit the intended 70% vaccination rate despite capacity to do so, but we take solace in the achievement of 37.7-million doses having been administered and that 22-million people in the country across age groups have had at least one jab.”

The biggest turnout, he added, was in the 60-plus age group, in which 70.5% of people have had at least one dose.

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