CANDLIGHTING CEREMONY IN REMEMBRANCE OF THOSE WHO HAVE SUCCUMBED TO COVID-19 (SPEAKING NOTES – MINISTER OF HEALTH DR. ZWELINI MKHIZE)
Members of the Media Fellow South Africans,
As we gather today, for the first time in the history of the pandemic in South Africa, we have breached the 18 000 mark for new daily cases and have reached a cumulative total 1 057 161 cases.
Previously we warned that this second wave will dwarf the first wave and in- deed this is the case as we witness a steep climb in numbers of active cases. Despite performing of 55 000 tests in the past 24 hours, the positivity rate is 32,5%- we keep highlighting this point because this indicates that the virus is spreading so fast that it is outpacing our ability to detect it- even with good turnaround times.
28 469 South Africans are known to have succumbed to COVID-19 this year- amongst those were 436 public health care workers who paid the ultimate price in the frontline.
Today, in heeding the call of His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, we are here to remember our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, our brothers, our friends our colleagues and our loved ones who have been so cruelly taken away from us by COVID-19. Hundreds of people are dying ever day. By now, I am sure all of us know someone who has passed away from COVID-19. To- day alone 436 more COVID-19 related deaths have been reported. May the soul of the departed rest in eternal peace and may we all be comforted by the happy memories we have shared with those who have left us.
Our health care workers continue to bravely fight this war even though they have been pushed beyond their call of duty. But we must remember that as the rate of transmission rises so too do the infections amongst health care workers rise. To date, we have recorded a cumulative 43 124 health care workers who became infected with COVID-19.
In the past week, all provinces reported an increase in the numbers of health care workers infected, with the biggest increase coming from this province, KZN, with 687 new cases.
Every time a health care worker becomes infected with COVID, we lose at least 10 days of labour, so desperately needed during this time. We may lose these precious resources for longer if they become ill and need to be treated and isolated for longer. We may lose them forever if they succumb to COVID- 19.
But more importantly, health care workers are not just labour for the health care system- they are active members of society, breadwinners, community leaders, counselors and role models. We must do everything to protect our health care workers. Government has always remained committed to their protection and well being but we can only be fully successful if the whole of society partners with us on this issue. From our end, we continue to closely monitor PPE stock and distribution to ensure no health care worker is exposed to COVID-19 and we are working around the clock to secure vaccines as quickly as possible so that our health care workers can be immunised as soon as possible- this is a major focus for us right now.
We know that public discourse in the past few weeks has been dominated by concerns over the new variant- what it means for our country and what hap- pens when the variant is discovered in other countries. Vaccines have also 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. The other fact is we do not have a vaccine right now. The virus will not wait until these matters are resolved.
Therefore, fellow South Africans, I must 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.
If we cannot do these things, the numbers will continue to climb and we will witness COVID-19 itself causing devastation to our economy because when citizens are sick they cannot be economically active and resources must be prioritised to care for the sick, the dying and those who become indigent due to loss of breadwinners to sickness or death.
Therefore today, as we usher in the New Year, let us recalibrate our focus and concentrate on the things we can all do together to break the tide of COVID-19.
Let us celebrate the health care workers who have triumphed every day for you and me to see another day and go into the future with renewed hope. Let us honour those who succumbed to COVID-19 by getting better at protecting one another- you can save a life today just by remembering that you have the power to do so.
As we light the candle, let it shine warm with hope, love and compassion for our fellow South Africans for a prosperous 2021 and a future where we can look back and say we defeated COVID-19 together, because we were in it together.