Members of the Media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
We wish to extend a warm welcome to you as members of the Fourth Estate, as we host the first media briefing of the New Year 2021. In the same breath, we take this opportunity to wish you and all South Africans a New Year that is filled with good health, happiness, and personal fulfilment.
A TIME TO DOUBLE OUR EFFORTS, AND NOT DESPAIR
We know that, at this time, wishing Happy New Year for many people is cold comfort, for they are already in mourning, having lost their loved ones due to COVID – 19, or other causes.
Indeed, many people have had to bury their parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbours due to this virus. Some are waiting to bury; others are themselves sick, in hospital, or may need to be hospitalised.
Many who haven’t lost their loved ones, already have a bleak outlook for what lies ahead. They are highly anxious because of the high rate of COVID – 19 infections and death around them; as the stronger second wave of this deadly virus continues to take its toll.
Things are, indeed, tough.
And it feels like life as we’ve never known it before.
But this is not a time for us to lose hope.
It was Albert Einstein who once observed that, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Now is not a time for us to be consumed by despair. Rather, it is a time for us to work even harder than before to prevent infection, and to contain the spread of COVID – 19.
We have an opportunity to fight and turn back the tide of COVID – 19, by taking actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones, by following the precautions – and seeking help immediately if we get sick or see symptoms.
We need to act responsibly and not just pay lip service when it comes to taking precautions. We need to realise that every decision we take, and everything we do, has an impact on our lives and our ability to curb the spread of the virus.
A WORD OF THANKS TO THE PEOPLE OF KZN FOR THEIR GOOD BEHAVIOUR
We also wish to take this opportunity to thank all the responsible citizens of KwaZulu-Natal for their relatively good behaviour during the Festive Season.
As a result of your adherence to the restrictions under Alert Lockdown Level 3, on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day, some of our busiest hospitals in the province reported a very low intake of patients.
Their emergency and trauma units were virtually empty, thanks to the early curfew and the ban on alcohol sales. This includes hospitals such as Prince Mshiyeni Memorial, King Edward VIII, Addington, Edendale, Madadeni, Ngwelezane, Port Shepstone and others.
This means that nurses and clinicians could invest their scarce resources where they are needed most – not on treating people with injuries from avoidable, alcohol-related incidents that happen late at night.
Reflecting on this unusual situation, an Emergency Medical Services director said, and I quote: “Since I joined EMS more than 30 years ago, it’s my first New Year’s Eve where, before midnight, my phone was quiet, without any Motor Vehicle Accident reports – let alone after midnight. KZN EMS, private ambulances and law enforcement have reported no accidents. Clearly, we can learn a lot from this about the effects of alcohol.”
So, to the people of KwaZulu-Natal, we say congratulations, and keep up the good conduct.
A WARNING TO THOSE IN THE ILLICIT LIQUOR TRADE
Since the announcement of the Level 3 lockdown we have activated all role-players within the Provincial Joint Operational and Crime Intelligence structures to ensure that there is compliance in terms of the disaster management act. Whilst security forces have observed that the majority of citizens are complying with the regulations of the disaster management act, there are still pockets of people across the province that are still non-compliant.
As of 29 December 2020 until 1 January 2021, 729 people have been arrested for non-compliance of Covid 19 regulations across KwaZulu-Natal. At least 246 of these persons were arrested for failing to confine themselves to their residences during the curfew hours. No fewer than 66 people have been arrested for transporting, selling or consuming alcohol in a public space, whilst 392 were arrested for not wearing their mask in various public spaces. Furthermore many others have been arrested for other contraventions of the disaster management regulations.
The message from security forces is clear; there will be no mercy for those who continue to flout the disaster management regulations, thereby putting other citizens at risk.
Police officers will continue to conduct operations in hotspot areas across the province and will hold roadblocks, stop and searches as well as other operations to ensure that citizens comply with the disaster management regulations.
We also want to issue a warning to both established liquor outlets as well as individuals who are selling liquor illegally, the so-called “Take It Or Leave It” merchants, that we will come for them, because they are enemies of our progress.
Kuze kungabi nokukhala nokugedla kwamazinyo when we confiscate stock, revoke licenses and arrest people!!!
We have no tolerance for these unscrupulous enemies of people’s good health. We call on all right-thinking South Africans to not only isolate these people by not supporting their trade, but to also report them anonymously, by contacting the SAPS on 10111, so that we can take action.
A NATION IN MOURNING
Given the unprecedented high rate of infection and mortality due to COVID – 19, we really should consider ourselves as people who are in mourning.
When you are in mourning, there are certain things or priviledges that you simply have to stop doing, as you deal with the situation that is confronting you.
So, let us continue to respect the restrictions that Government has imposed on us in a bid to contain the spread of COVID – 19.
And let us engage in practices that have been scientifically found to prevent the spread of the virus, such as wearing our masks when going out; washing our hands with soap and water and hand sanitizer; and maintaining social distancing. Let us also avoid congregating in large crowds.
COVID – 19 SITUATIONAL REPORT
We are extremely concerned that we have started the New Year on a bad note, having breached the 5000 mark for daily COVID – 19 infections. Three days ago, when we were reporting the stats for 30 December 2020, our province had recorded 5 846 new infections and 116 deaths.
It was the first time that we had gone beyond the 5000 mark – let alone approaching 6000.
The next day, on New Year’s Eve, we improved slightly in terms of infections, and registered 5 311 new infections. But we registered 134 deaths.
On New Year’s Day, we again saw a slight improvement, recording 4 974 new infections, and 21 fatalities.
As of yesterday, we recorded a total of 4 714 new infections, bringing the province’s total number of COVID – 19 infections to 209 691. Sadly, 85 people lost their lives over the past 24 hour reporting period.
Again, may their precious souls rest in peace. We send our deepest condolences to the bereaved families.
Distribution of cases and deaths by district, KwaZulu-Natal, 5 Mar 2020 -02 Jan 2021
|District||New cases||%. New cases||Total cases||%.Total cases||New deaths||Total deaths||%. Total deaths||Case Fatality rate (%)|
|EThekwini||3720||78.9||109 144||52.0||14||2 308||49.7||2.1|
|King Cetshwayo||195||4.1||15 380||7.3||3||361||7.8||2.3|
|Harry Gwala||73||1.5||5 523||2.6||0||185||4.0||3.3|
|Total||4714||100.0||209 691||100.0||85||4 642||100.0||2.2|
|*NB: Due to transfer in and out of patients, some patients demise in the districts they were transferred to, contributing to change in number of deaths by district after reallocation.|
KEY EMERGING TRENDS IN OUR PROVINCE
The Province has observed that the 6 Districts that have been declared hotspots (that is EThekwini, UMgungundlovu, Ugu, Harry Gwala, King Cetshwayo, and Ilembe) are recording a high number of cases daily.
Family clusters have also increased, which clearly indicates that infected family members are not complying with self-quarantine and self- isolation rules.
There are also a number of home deaths, and people dying on arrival at health facilities, which is a clear indication that people are reporting late to health facilities.
We have also noticed that there is an increase in the number of index cases who are refusing to give a list of their contacts. This is highly problematic, as it hampers contact tracing, which is the cornerstone of the public health response to COVID – 19. We are also concerned that some contacts are refusing to be tested.
CAPACITY OF THE PROVINCE TO RESPOND
In responding to the second wave, the Province has prepared more beds in response to the demand. Our response includes the following:
- Repurposing of 540 beds in Ethekwini, Ilembe and Harry Gwala;
- Commissioning of field hospitals which will give the Province an additional 954 beds;
- The Province has also engaged private facilities (hotels and lodges) for extra beds; and, so far, two facilities have been commissioned at Ugu and King Cetshwayo districts.
HELP IS AT HAND
Since confirmation of the country’s first COVID – 19 case in March 2020, we as Government have moved swiftly to create bed capacity, as well as made available human and material resources to be able to deal with COVID – 19.
We have helped a countless number of people with getting screened, tested and admitted for isolation or quarantine, which has contributed positively to the number of people who have recovered from COVID - 19.
Our hard-working and valued field agents, nurses and other dedicated staff continue to do this on a daily basis.
We want to remind our fellow compatriots that, if you suspect that you might have the symptoms for COVID – 19, the first thing to do is keep yourself away from other people, so that you will not infect them.
Secondly, wear your mask.
You then need to contact your nearest health facility, so that arrangements may be made for you to get screened and tested, if you meet the criteria.
In some instances, a team of our field agents may come to your home and test you.
People who test positive need to inform their nearest healthcare facility, so that they can be sent into isolation.
We are now at an advanced stage of re-establishing our contracts with private facilities, which can accommodate people who can’t isolate at home.
We plead with communities to protect and look after our field agents when they come to test people at their homes. Remember, you, or your loved ones, could need their services someday soon.
We also encourage people to download the COVID ALERT app, so that they may find out if their friends, or those that they are in close contact have tested positive for COVID – 19. This app will not reveal any names, but it will indicate where you stand as far as exposure to COVID – 19 is concerned.
IMPACT ON HEALTHCARE WORKERS
A total of 8 723 health care workers (HCWs) have now been infected with COVID-19 in the public sector since the beginning of the pandemic. Of the total infected, 98 (or 1%) have sadly succumbed to the disease. The majority of the infected health care workers (IHCW) are nurses (56%).
As of 02 January 2021, the province had 4 340 patients admitted in both private (n=, 2 474, 57 %) and public (n=1 866, 43%) hospitals. Of those admitted, 472 patients (11 %) required intensive care services. Private hospitals had more patients in ICU (86%, n=408 than public facilities (14%, n=64).
Among those who required intensive care, 29% (n=139) were ventilated in both private (80%, n=112) and public (22%, n=28) facilities.
Of the total available COVID-19 dedicated isolation beds (n=1 925), 3% were vacant. Of the total ICU beds (n=127) allocated in public sector, 50% were occupied, as of 02 January 2021.
A WARNING ABOUT CONSPIRACY THEORISTS
We have noted a number of conspiracy theories, particularly on social media, from people claiming that COVID – 19 does not exist, and that it is somehow related to 5G mobile communications technology.
Others have sought to cast aspersions on the vaccine for COVID – 19, and have discouraged people from taking the vaccine when it becomes available.
We are pleading with those people to stop spreading fake news and malicious misinformation.
At a time when we are grappling with this virus, and doing our best to make the vaccine available to our people as quickly as possible, we can ill-afford to be distracted by the work of people who clearly have too much time on their hands.
We plead with those people to stop misleading the nation.
Rather invest your time in researching the real origins of the virus, from reputable academic sources; and also try and gain a better understanding of the many encouraging scientific advancements that have been made in developing the vaccine.
Let us spread facts, not fear.
PLEA TO THE PUBLIC
We once again call upon each and every citizen of this Province to help us beat this pandemic and save lives. We all need to realise that we are in a difficult time, and behave like people who are in mourning, as I said earlier.
That’s what the New Normal is about.
Young people, in particular, have been found to be among the biggest contributors to the movement and spread of COVID – 19.
This is largely because the vast majority of them tend to be outgoing, but also because they tend to contract the virus, and not show the symptoms.
But when this happens, they are still infectious, and they easily pass it on to older people, including their parents, grandparents, and relatives, who may get sick and ultimately pass away as a result.
This is why it is important for them, and indeed all of us, to adhere to the precautions, and avoid large crowds. Again, let us please use the only tools that we have against this virus, and wear our face masks when going out; wash our hands regularly with soap and water and alcohol-based hand sanitizer; and maintain social distancing.
Once again, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are grieving at this time. May your tears be wiped away, and may you find the strength and fortitude to carry on with your lives, despite your loss.
To the rest of us, I would like to close off with a quote from the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros, who said: “We are asking everyone to treat the decisions about where they go, what they do, who they meet, as life and death decisions – because that is what they are. It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger.”