The third wave is gathering fatal momentum in Gauteng, where a complete lack of coordination has left the health system in a shambles.
The government ignored DA and scientist warnings back in February that a third wave would arrive with winter.
They ignored our pleas to pull out all the stops for a speedy, efficient vaccine rollout. They ignored scientific and WHO advice and DA pleas to administer the one million AstraZeneca vaccines that South Africa took delivery of in February, which could have given 500 000 high-risk individuals protection against severe illness and death.
They refused to let provinces and private entities procure vaccines directly from suppliers. They failed to use the time to prepare the health system or build track & trace capacity.
Having been asleep at the wheel for months, the National Coronavirus Command Council is now looking to use the only tool it seems able to wield: lockdowns.
And so the country is on tenterhooks, all plans suspended, all decisions pending as it waits for President Ramaphosa to address the nation.
Here are the actions steps / decisions he should announce:
• Treasury has released budgeted funds so that the vaccine programme can run at full speed seven days a week.
• We call on all retired or unemployed doctors and nurses to step forward so that we can temporarily enlist your services administering vaccines.
• We call on volunteers to assist with non-medical tasks so that this process can operate at top speed 7 days a week.
• We will no longer stand in the way of provinces and private entities procuring vaccines directly.
• We apologise sincerely for dropping the ball on vaccines. We acknowledge this has cost people dearly in terms of avoidable loss of lives and livelihoods. We take full responsibility for our failures.
• We have devolved decision-making responsibility to competent provincial health departments, because we are committed to taking a differentiated approach, since provincial circumstances differ markedly, so blanket restrictions are irrational and counter-productive. For example, the Northern Cape has already passed the peak of its third wave, so we cannot expect them to make sacrifices because the virus is raging in Gauteng. Also, the Western Cape has built sufficient healthcare capacity, so we cannot treat this province the same as Gauteng, which has failed its residents.
• It is far cheaper and easier to prevent infection than to treat it. But past restrictions on economic activity have shown to do more harm than good. So we support limiting activity where this will not harm the economy. We support firm limits on large gatherings, strict protocols for taxis including driving with all windows open to ensure maximum ventilation, and open windows at schools.
• We commit to providing the necessary law enforcement, recognizing that all are equal before the law. We apologise for the terrible example set yesterday when the ANC held a large superspreader event in support of our Secretary General Ace Magashule who has been suspended for alleged corruption.
• We apologise that fifteen months into a pandemic, citizens are still being called to make great sacrifices, because we dropped the ball on vaccines and because we failed to build the necessary healthcare capacity to accommodate all in need and the necessary track and trace capacity to block transmission.
• We apologise for looting funds meant for PPE procurement, which resulted in over R14 billion of dodgy contracts out of R31 billion budget.
• We apologise for delivering sub-standard PPE in 7 out of 9 provinces, which has led to avoidable infections and deaths.
• The 1 000-bed Charlotte Maxeke Hospital will be opening immediately. We apologise that it took over two months to get it operational again after the fire in mid-April. It is completely unacceptable that it took a full 5 weeks to appoint a contractor and source fire doors. Those responsible for these failures will be held accountable.
• We are working round the clock and pulling out all the stops to get all Covid-19 facilities fully operational. This includes the 500-bed Covid-19 facility at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, the 183-bed facility in Carletonville, the 300-bed facility in George Mukhari Hospital, the 300-bed facility at Jubilee Mall, and the 150-bed facility at Bronkhorstspruit.
• We have instructed the Gauteng Department of Health to ensure that currently employed healthcare workers are being used efficiently, and to enlist private sector doctors and nurses including agency nurses and unemployed nurses and doctors to assist. Treasury has released the budget to pay overtime where necessary. We acknowledge that it is absolutely unacceptable that residents should suffer and die because “there is no budget for overtime” or for bolstering staff resources.
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