Covid-19 lockdown restrictions still to be discussed, says Gungubele

Covid-19 cases have been rising exponentially since the discovery of the Omicron variant was announced on 25 November. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, 19 842 positive cases were recorded in the last 24-hour cycle in South Africa.

But Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele told a media briefing on Thursday that the cabinet had concluded the health system was not overwhelmed and lockdown restrictions did not have to be adjusted immediately.

Gungubele said whether there would be a stricter lockdown was now in the hands of President Cyril Ramaphosa and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC). 

Ramaphosa is expected to meet NCCC members later this week to discuss adjusted lockdown regulations, but no date has been set yet. 

“[Lockdown adjustments are] based on their assessment from the Medical Advice Council to decide whether the family meeting is necessary or not,” Gungubele said, adding that the government’s priority was still to balance saving lives and livelihoods.

“The biggest threat to our country now is an economy that is stagnant and the smart approach, which is understood by many, is to do everything that will not interrupt the economic recovery,” Gungubele said. 

No recommendations on vaccine mandates had been tabled by the cabinet, the minister said, urging South Africans to maintain a safe physical distance in public, wear their masks and practice good hygiene to curb the spread of the virus. 

“The attitude the government is adopting is finding the best way to ensure livelihoods are preserved and the economy moves. No recommendations on mandatory vaccines were tabled. It’s clear to a number of us that you need a policy that encourages vaccination and discourages vaccine cynicism.”

To date, 26.7 million vaccines have been administered with 133 695 of those in the past 24 hours. That number is still far from the target set by the health department of 300 000 vaccinations a day.

A growing list of companies have made vaccines mandatory as South Africa grapples with a fourth wave of Covid-19 and the new Omicron variant, the latest being mobile telecoms giant MTN.

Some universities have also implemented vaccine mandates, with the University of Johannesburg being the latest to do so. Staff, postdoctoral research fellows and students will need to provide proof of vaccination before entering campus. The policy will take effect in January. 

In his latest weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa the rate of new infections the country was currently experiencing had not been seen since the pandemic started, with the number of daily infections increasing five-fold over the last week.

“Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests was sitting at around 2%,” Ramaphosa wrote.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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