South Africa has entered the new year with another record increase in daily Covid-19 infections, with the health department reporting 18,000 new cases in the country.
At the close of the year, South Africa’s total cases were recorded at 1,057,161 confirmed, while deaths have risen by 436 to 28,469.
Recoveries have reached 879,671, giving South Africa a balance of 149,021 active cases – a figure that is also continuously rising during the latest resurgence.
Government has responded to the second wave of infections by moving the country back into lockdown level 3, putting tighter restrictions on social gatherings and banning alcohol, which it says leads to too many trauma cases at hospitals, which are already struggling to meet demand.
Health minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize said that the the bulk of commentary from South Africans and lockdown critics have focused on the Covid-19 vaccines and the availability – or lack thereof – for South Africa.
However, he said that while the focus on the vaccine is important, it distracts from the duty of all citizens to do what they can right now to stop the spread of the virus.
“Vaccines have dominated the conversation, and we appreciate that everyone shares our sense of urgency to procure and rollout vaccines equitably, beginning with the most vulnerable in our population.
“However, I am concerned that the dominance of these issues takes away our focus on the things that will save our lives now. The fact is the virus will continue to mutate and there will always be a new variant discovered – that is only a matter of time,” he said.
The minister said that the fact remains that we do not have a vaccine right now.
“The virus will not wait until these matters are resolved: no matter how fast we work. Therefore it is important to continue wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and sanitising,” he said.
#COVID19 Statistics in SA as at 31 December.
Use the COVID Alert SA app to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community. Start using this privacy preserving app today. Add your phone to the fight! Download the Covid Alert SA app now! https://t.co/8YKEqaiiRF pic.twitter.com/JdkTzcrq1l
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) December 31, 2020
President Cyril Ramaphosa this week said that the spread of the virus is being driven by a lack of adherence to lockdown and social distancing regulations, as well as a new local variant of the Covid-19 virus that appears to be more contagious.
The variant has been found in other countries too, such as the UK, which has subsequently restricted travel to and from South Africa.
This week, France identified a first case of the South African variant of the virus, the health ministry said.
The man self-isolated at home immediately after symptoms appeared a few days after returning from South Africa, the ministry said. No “risky” contact cases have been identified by the authorities, and the person has now fully recovered.
To limit the spread of new Covid-19 variants, France is requiring people traveling from the UK and South Africa to provide fresh negative tests.
Mkhize warned against feeding the idea that the South African variant is somehow causing new outbreaks in other countries, noting that other local variants in those countries were discovered long before the South African variant was found.
“The UK variant has already been identified outside of the UK as reported by Prof Neil Ferguson, a top British scientists who told the UK’s science and technology committee on 23 Dec 2020 that evidence from Denmark, a country with a relatively low infection rate, suggests that ‘almost certainly’ the new virus variant identified in the UK is already in the ‘great majority if not all’ European countries,” he said.
He urged South Africans to do their part, right now, to stop the spread of the virus.
“I echo the President’s plea that we remain absolutely focused on what each and every one of us can do now to protect ourselves and each other. We know that, in particular, wearing of masks and social distancing are very difficult to do all the time. But this is why it becomes ever more important to focus our minds collectively on these simple interventions that do save lives,” he said.