Vaccine passports and jabs for kids are on the way, says Joe Phaahla
The national coronavirus command council will consider an implementation plan for vaccine passports within 10 days.
And Covid-19 vaccinations could be extended to under-18s at the end of October, health minister Dr Joe Phaahla said on Friday.
Briefing the media during a visit to the Free State, Phaahla said the 18 months of lockdown had started to cause more mental health problems, particularly among young people.
“We're seeing anxiety, depression, we're starting to see rising suicides,” he said, urging people to get vaccinated so normal life could start to return.
“Vaccines will allow us a very, very good improvement in our quality of life. We can get back to stadiums. We can claim our rights back if we do a small thing – just walk into a site and get a jab.”
Once vaccination passports – or certificates, as the health department prefers – are available, Phaahla said they would allow the opening up of more economic, recreational and religious activities.
“The aim of the vaccination certificate is not to punish anybody, it's to protect each other. The aim is to make sure that we can come with a policy which ensures people who are vaccinated can access a lot more facilities.
“Our team led by acting director-general Dr Nicholas Crisp is working very hard to make sure that we can present [an implementation plan] for the certificate to the national coronavirus command council in the next 10 days.”
Phaahla said the health department would need the assistance of colleagues in the home affairs and sport and recreation departments to implement the certificate.
The new document would not be needed to gain access to essential and emergency services, he said. But the private sector would be free to use it to control access to businesses.
“Salons might say, 'no vaccinations, no weaves', but it will not be because it is a government rule,” he said.
Vaccinations for under-18s were not on the cards yet because over-50s remain the priority for jabs, said Phaahla.
“We want to remain focused for now – for the next month or two – on the high-risk, which is the older people. Once we have reached hopefully 50% of the high-risk people, we are hoping somewhere by the end of October ... we might be ready to go to the below-18s.”
Phaahla said state of disaster restrictions may be further relaxed when the health department reports to the national coronavirus command council in the next two weeks.
His optimism is based on a steady decline in new infections (down 35% in a week), hospitalisations (down 12.5%) and the test positivity rate (down to 9% on Thursday).
“If we continue to comply, more relaxations will be on the way. The 11pm curfew might go to midnight, gatherings could get bigger, we could get alcohol sales on Saturdays.”
However, vaccination numbers were still falling short of the daily target of 300,000 set by President Cyril Ramaphosa, and on Thursday only 220,000 doses were administered.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Phaahla.
So far, 15.7-million doses have been administered, 11.2-million people (28% of the adult population) have had at least one jab and 7.7-million people (almost 20% of adults) are fully inoculated.
The rate of vaccinations – 184,000 a day in the past seven days – will need to be sustained to achieve the government target of 70% coverage among adults by Christmas.
“There will be a fourth wave, so the question is: what will we do before it comes?” said Phaahla.
“If we can get close to a minimum of 60%, we will have a good Christmas. If we can ramp up the vaccinations, we can get back to the lives we are all missing.”