Health Minister Zweli Mkhize took a moment on Friday to mark South Africa’s first anniversary of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, vowing to speed up the vaccination programme to slow down the disease which has claimed over 50,000 lives since March last year.Marking the occasion, Mkhize recalled his announcement of news about the first 38-year-old Covid-19 patient from KwaZulu-Natal Province who arrived in the country from his skiing holiday in Italy – which was at the time the epicentre of the disease in Europe.
The unnamed man tested positive after a ski trip in Italy with his wife and eight others, and his sickness sent shock waves throughout the nation.
Ten days later as the country reached 61 cases of Covid-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a National State of Disaster that saw the government banning travellers from the most affected countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
A week later the government imposed a 21-day lockdown, which included measures such as a ban of the sale of non-essential items like alcohol, tobacco and clothing, and an end to social gatherings and restrictions for the conduct of funerals.
As cases continued to rise, threatening to put the country’s healthcare system under enormous strain, the government swiftly closed off South Africa by cancelling flights, suspended public transport and shut down non-essential shops, businesses and schools in the country.
As the lockdown remained in place, most economic activities were virtually brought to a halt, and this resulted in millions of job losses for many citizens, further depressing an economy that was already under strain due to a recession.
The government, in the meantime, tried its best to ease the situation for the most vulnerable citizens by providing them with relief funding as it urged them to observe the health protocols for the prevention of the disease.
Ramaphosa’s government provided a US$33.33 billion stimulus package to support the vulnerable and respond to the devastating effects of the lockdown on workers and businesses.
While this might have provided temporary relief, the truth on the ground was that over two million people lost their jobs and most businesses came to a virtual standstill as the second wave of the virus hit the country.
Battling the second wave with more restrictions paid off to a point where last week the president eased them, while insisting that the citizens should continue to wear masks in public.
He announced this as the country kicked off a vaccination programme which is expected to slow down the pandemic that has spawned a mutant variant scientifically known as the 501Y.V2 variant.
Ramaphosa himself led the nation in getting the first injection from Johnson & Johnson vaccines three weeks ago in order to allay fears that the jabs yielded negative effects on the populace as social media chats would have it.
Targeting healthcare workers first, the injections have seen 90,000 workers vaccinated as part of the targeted 1.5 million people before the programme moves on to other categories of frontliners and people with underlying diseases.
Mkhize said the government would speed up the vaccinating programme in order to create herd immunity for the country in order to end the pandemic.
As South Africa worked its way back to economic stability, with the country having been placed on lockdown Level 1 five days ago, the president warned citizens about the threat of a third wave and new variants should they disregard the prevention protocols.
“This pandemic has taken much from us, but it has not taken our strength, our courage, or our sense of solidarity as a people. It has not dampened our spirit or weakened our resolve,” he said, urging everyone to remain hopeful and vigilant against Covid-19.