Elections 2021: Health Minister Joe Paahla warns of Covid-19 super-spreader events ahead of voting

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IEC barrier tape at a voting station for Ward 32 during the by-elections on November 11, 2020 in Durban.
IEC barrier tape at a voting station for Ward 32 during the by-elections on November 11, 2020 in Durban.
Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • The national health department has warned that the final voter mobilisation weekend might lead to Covid-19 super-spreader events.
  • It will set up about 1 000 pop-up vaccine sites at voting stations on Monday.
  • The department will use mostly Johnson & Johnson doses at the voting stations.

The health department has appealed to political parties to ensure that the final election campaign weekend does not lead to Covid-19 cluster breakouts.

With only three days to the municipal elections, Health Minister Joe Phaahla warned that, while current infections numbers were stable, they might rise because of the elections.

"I want to caution that we are definitely not out of the woods," he said.

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Phaahla said it was "still too early to tell" what impact Monday's municipal elections would have on Covid-19 infection numbers.

"The numbers show that we’ve not yet experienced any spikes which can be linked to the election campaigns, but this is not yet a point of comfort."

He said with a super-spreader event, it might take up to 15 days for case numbers to increase.

"The next three days are going to be very risky. They may be the most [risky] because all political parties will be rallying their supporters…to go out and vote for them on Monday in big numbers."

He said: 

This is a very risky situation even in an outdoor venue. We appeal to all political parties to approach the gatherings or final push with caution. You all know what saves lives. Limit the numbers. Avoid clusters of gatherings before and after meetings.

Phaahla said the department would only know by 15 November whether election campaigns had led to a surge in new cases. "We will know whether we have escaped unscathed in the election campaign."

He also announced that the department would set up pop-up vaccination sites at about 1 000 voting stations across the country.

"Targeting mainly the uptake of vaccination has not been very good now. The sites will be set up at the voting precinct. We hope that this arrangement will offer convenience to those who have travelled from their homes, who can then achieve both casting ballots and vaccinating in one trip."

The pop-up sites would prioritise the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the two-dose Pfizer jab would also be available, Phaahla said.

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In an effort to encourage people aged 60 and above to get vaccinated, Phaahla said they had introduced a pilot scheme valued at R26 million to benefit 260 000 individuals who receive their first vaccine dose in November.

They will qualify for a R100 Vuma grocery voucher, which can be redeemed at Shoprite, USave and Checkers stores. The vouchers would be available on a first-come-first-served basis.

IEC vice-chairperson Janet Love said there would be health and safety protocols at election sites.

On Saturday, special voting will start and officials will follow safety protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising.

Love said, instead of using a pen, officials would be using disposable buds to mark voters' thumbnails with indelible ink.

She encouraged voters to bring their own pens to the stations.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can't find the facts you're looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.

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