Election campaign events greatest risk for Covid-19 fourth wave, says Ramaphosa as he allows bigger gatherings

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  • A month from the municipal elections, up to 2 000 people will now be allowed to gather outdoors as government eased Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
  • Ramaphosa has acknowledged that campaign activities pose the greatest risk to a new surge in infections.
  • He said if vaccination targets were met by the end of the year, more restrictions can be lifted.

With the municipal elections a month away, President Cyril Ramaphosa lowered the Covid-19 lockdown level and announced new regulations that will allow up to 2 000 people to gather outdoors.

Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Thursday evening, acknowledging that election campaign activities posed the greatest risk to a new surge in Covid-19 infections.

"The involvement of all sectors of society in the national effort will become all the more critical in the run-up to local government elections in November," Ramaphosa said.

"Campaign activities pose the greatest risk to a surge in new infections. Every one of us – from party leaders and organisers to supporters and elections staff – has a responsibility to ensure that the regulations are followed, and all health protocols are observed during the election campaign," Ramaphosa added.

He said the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) was putting measures in place to ensure that every voter could freely exercise their democratic right without being exposed to unnecessary risk.

While Ramaphosa insisted that the National Coronavirus Command Council's decision to lower the lockdown restrictions to Level 1 was scientifically based, News24 reported earlier this week that scientists and doctors on the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 were disappointed with the recent handling of the virus.

They said more emphasis had been placed on politics as the elections loomed.

READ | Covid-19: 'Politics starting to manage how we run the pandemic' – MAC insider

The scientists also said it was too early to pronounce that the third wave of infections was over.

"A few days ago, the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium confirmed that South Africa has emerged from a third wave of Covid-19 infections," Ramaphosa said.

"This wave, which was driven by the Delta variant, was far more severe than the previous two waves. This third wave lasted more than 130 days and was about two weeks longer than each of the earlier waves.

"At the peak of the third wave, we were recording around 20 000 new cases each day. In the last seven days, the average number of new cases was at around 1 800 a day. There are also sustained decreases in Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths in all provinces. This is news that is welcome to all of us," Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that 574 days in lockdown had taken a toll on everybody.

"We have experienced much hardship, and the most difficult of these has been the many relatives, colleagues and friends we have lost to this pandemic. We mourn each and every one of them.

"Naturally, we all want to resume many of the activities that we have been unable to do for much of the past two years," he said.

"These freedoms, which we all long for, are within our reach. But we will only be able to get there if we are all vaccinated, and we all continue to observe the basic health protocols."

He claimed that the national vaccination drive had gathered pace, with 17 million vaccine doses administered.

"Over 8.6 million people are fully vaccinated, which is more than one-fifth of the adult population.

"These numbers give us confidence and hope. We have set ourselves the target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population in South Africa by the end of the year."

He said the Department of Health estimated that up to 20 000 lives could be saved if this target was met.

"To reach our goal, we need to administer an additional 16 million vaccine doses this year, which amounts to around 250 000 first-dose vaccinations every single workday of every week until mid-December."

He announced that the department will soon implement a vaccine certificate.

"As I said earlier, we all long for our freedom back, and if we continue to work together as we have been doing, more areas of activity will open up. The Department of Health will soon be rolling out a vaccination certificate, which will provide a secure and verifiable proof of vaccination.

"It can be used to facilitate travel, access to establishments and gatherings and other forms of activity that require proof of vaccination status."

However, he did not mention anything on limitations for people without these certificates.

READ | Vaccine hesitant? Get the facts

Ramaphosa also announced that government had decided to upscale its vaccination campaign by launching the "Vooma Vaccination Weekends" campaign, the first of which will be this Friday and Saturday.

"The Department of Health has identified priority districts in each province, based on the number of unvaccinated people and the current vaccination coverage in each district.

"Leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society, religious leaders, traditional leaders, labour and business will mobilise communities to stay safe by being vaccinated.

"The Deputy President and I, as well as ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, MECs, mayors and councillors, will also be out in communities on Friday and Saturday to encourage citizens to get vaccinated."

Ramaphosa said ensuring that the economy recovered as quickly as possible was the greatest priority.

"The only way that we can do this is if more South Africans choose to get vaccinated, more quickly," he said, emphasising the word "choose".

He said some people had been saying that the National State of Disaster should be ended.

"Now, we follow science. Our scientists continue to advise us on all these matters. Vaccination is our best defence. If we can reach our vaccination targets by the end of this year, we can avoid further restrictions and kick our economic recovery into a high gear," he said.

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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