The Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize;
MEC for Health in KZN, Ms Nomagugu Simelane;
CEO and Management of Grey’s Hospital,
Government officials in our midst,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today marks a very significant milestone in the history of our country and province, as we observe the first anniversary of the diagnosis of the first case of COVID – 19 in the country.
The theme for this occasion, "Lest We Forget" is most appropriate, given the devastation that COVID - 19 has caused in our country. The loss of lives and livelihoods on a scale that has never been seen before, as we have seen, is indeed an unforgettable period, which will be spoken about for generations to come...
The beautiful Province of KwaZulu-Natal is famous for registering many positive “firsts.” Although we were prepared, we did not think that the first confirmed COVID – 19 case would come from our shores.
But it did. Naturally these developments were met with shock, fear and a deep sense of panic. No-one knew the exact nature and scale of the destruction that COVID – 19 would cause.
For the first time ever, COVID – 19; – which we had heard about in the media – was no longer a disease affecting only people overseas. It was now right on our doorstep, staring us right in the face.
The arrival of COVID – 19 in our country set off a chain of events that shook the people of this nation and our economy to its core.
Nothing could have prepared us for the pain and devastation of losing family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and many other loved ones. Again, may their souls rest in peace.
HOPING FOR THE BEST, PREPARING FOR THE WORST
But, long before the disease was even found in our country; as leaders who are forward-thinking and in touch with reality, we had long already embarked on an extensive scenario-planning exercise, in anticipation of the imminent arrival of COVID - 19 on our shores.
In this regard, we would like to thank our President, His Excellency Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, and our Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, for their unwavering support, leadership and guidance. We would also like to thank the MEC for Health in KZN Ms Nomagugu Simelane, as the line function MEC, as well as members of our Provincial COVID – 19 Command Council for the many hours of hard work and dedication that they’ve put in.
In our scenario planning for COVID - 19, we hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst.
When the virus did come, we sprung to action and implemented our COVID – 19 response plan, which entailed, among others:
Training of our healthcare workers on the protocols for the screening, testing, diagnosis and treatment of people with COVID – 19;
Refreshing them on basic Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) protocols;
Identifying hospitals and mobilising resources so that they can be renovated and reconfigured for the creation of additional bed capacity;
Identifying space for the erection of alternative hospital structures, also known as field hospitals;
Recruiting clinical, nursing and support staff, on contract basis to help us respond adequately to the challenge before us [By the way, our Cabinet has extended the contracts of COVID – 19 staff by a further six months];
We also procured equipment; and created systems to ensure that all healthcare workers have free and smooth access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), so that they can be protected.
Since that fateful day, the 5th of March 2021, the Province of KwaZulu-Natal has registered 329 666 COVID - 19 cases, and 9 715 deaths.
Thankfully, 310 275 people have recovered from the virus, which is a healthy recovery rate. As of the 3rd of March 2021, the Province recorded 245 new cases.
CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE RECENT REDUCTION IN COVID – 19 STATS; AND THE THREAT OF A THIRD WAVE
We have reason to feel somewhat relieved by these recent statistics, because they indicate a significant decline from our peak in late December and around the beginning of the year. This is a period when red flags were flashing all over, as we registered up to 6900 new cases per day.
Although our response to COVID – 19 might not always have been 100% perfect, it was not hopeless either – especially when considering that this is a virus that had never been seen before, and little was known about it.
The effectiveness of our government response is testified by the high recovery rate, which I’ve alluded to.
LINGERING THREAT OF A THIRD WAVE OF COVID – 19 INFECTIONS
As we take stock of the impact of the detection of COVID – 19 in South Africa, let us be mindful of the looming threat of a third wave, which might be harsher than the second and first waves, due to the possible mutation of the virus.
Government will continue doing all in its power to fast-track the arrival of more doses of the vaccine, so that the public can take advantage thereof.
It is up to the rest of us to play our part by following the precautions at all times, as we await to be vaccinated, and to ensure that that we seize the opportunity of being protected against the vaccine when it becomes available to the public.
ROLE PLAYED BY POLITICAL PARTIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY
It has been deeply humbling to witness the solidarity that has been displayed by political parties of different persuasions during the course of the past year.
They have, by and large, managed to put aside their differences for a change, and work together towards a common goal.
Over the past year, we also have enjoyed a great deal of support and inspiration from civil society, and the different sectors of our society - including faith-based organisations, traditional health practitioners, the taxi industry, private health sector, and Operation Sukuma Sakhe structures, to mention but a few.
Long may that spirit of co-operating and putting the country first, continue!!!
THE KEY ROLE OF COMMUNICATION: FIGHTING THE VIRUS THROUGH INFORMATION DISSEMINATION
It is our considered view that the sharing of knowledge and information was always going to be critical if this battle was to be won – particularly because Government could not go out and speak to the people, due to regulations imposed by the National Disaster Act.
It was against this background that Communication emerged as one of the most central elements of our strategy to mobilise society in order to fight to curb the spread of the pandemic.
In this regard, we once again wish thank all citizens who responded positively and embraced our clarion call for the observation of all COVID – 19 protocols.
A WORD OF THANKS TO THE MEDIA
In the same breath, we thank each and every media organisation and media practitioner for their deep sense of patriotism. They have played a crucial role in ensuring that society is suitably and adequately informed about all matters pertaining to COVID – 19.
Yesterday we learnt of the passing of prominent radio, television and print journalist, anchor at ENCA Ms Karima Brown. We convey our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Karima Brown. The world of journalism is poorer without Karima Brown who was true to the profession and on behalf of the people, she never gave up asking government to remain accountable at all times. Her passing away reminds us that the threat of the pandemic remains with us.
We can say without a shadow of doubt that, without our citizens being empowered by information from media sources that they trust – and changing their behaviour as a result - many more people would have lost their lives.
HEALTH WORKERS TO THE FRONTLINE
This has indeed been no ordinary year, especially for our health sector.
We wish to convey our heartfelt gratitude to all frontline healthcare workers who have and are still at the coalface of fighting COVID - 19. They made us proud by being brave enough to discharge their responsibilities even when they were not spared from contracting the infection themselves. They have been represented by the testimonies we have received from their colleagues.
They displayed a lot of courage, dedication, and the highest standards of professionalism. In this hospital we have the Doctors and Nurses that became the first to practically show the nation how to care for a Covid-19 positive patient. We thank them profusely for saving a lot of lives.
We also send our deepest condolences to all families who lost their loved ones this year. May their wounds be bandaged, and their pain be lessened.
To all healthcare workers who fell during the war, we will always remember them as true patriots and heroes who stood firm, soldiered on, and died with their boots on, in service of their countrymen and women.
VACCINE ROLLOUT PROGRAMME
We are extremely pleased with the progress that has been made since we launched the province’s COVID – 19 vaccination programme, at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital, on the 18th of February 2021.
In under three weeks, we have managed to vaccinate 11 780 healthcare professionals, at the following vaccination sites:
Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital;
Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital;
Madadeni Hospital; and
Gen. Justice Gizenga Memorial Hospital.
Earlier this week, we were pleased to receive the Province’s second batch of vaccines, which was made up of 15 120 doses.
We will continue with our efforts to ensure that healthcare workers in every corner of the province will receive the vaccine, so that they can be protected.
The roll out programme will be gradually extended to include more sites (in addition to Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital) and categories of people, as the province continues to receive more batches of the vaccine. Ultimately, everyone will get the vaccine but the programme is currently unfolding in a phased approached.
Honourable Minister the people of KwaZulu-Natal will come forward to get vaccinated. It really is in our hands to shape our future and ensure that we enjoy a long healthy life. Let’s do it for ourselves, our families, our communities, our beautiful province and our beloved country.
WE STILL NEED TO FOLLOW THE PRECAUTIONS
When we reflect on the sad moments of our recent past, we should be mindful that those of us who are still blessed with the gift of life today should practice responsible social behaviour at all times.
Even with the ongoing vaccination roll-out programme, we should still be vigilant, and abide by the COVID-19 protocols, in order to ensure one another’s safety. Let us not lower our guard. Instead, let us be on high alert and display good, responsible, and exemplary behaviour at all times.
We still need to:
Wear our masks at all times, especially when in the company of senior citizens, or people who have co-morbidities;
Wash our hands with soap and water or cleanse them with an alcohol-based sanitizer; and
Maintain social distancing from one another.
THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS
The outbreak of Covid 19 in our province proved that no setback is greater than our collective resolve to confront it. It also proved that our best as a people is always evident in times of crisis. To borrow a military metaphor, we always knew that to win a war you have to win the totality of battles and minor skirmishes but what we did not know is the inner strength of our people in times of crisis. Indeed, we can say without any sense of contradiction that despite the setbacks we have registered in the number of our people we have lost to the pandemic however we are on course to win the war.
As we conclude, we want to encourage all South Africans not to be despondent. We want to remind them that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. We’ve come a long way to get to where we are. Now is not the time to be despondent. This, too, shall pass.
Let us retain the sense of courage and resilience that has seen us through tough times, and remember that after the darkest night, the sun shall rise again.