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Military health practitioners have been brought in to help Gauteng hospitals deal with the dramatic surge of Covid-19 cases as the province battles during the third wave of the pandemic.

The military staff will also assist with mass testing, screening and contact tracing in the province, acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said at a media briefing Friday.

She said the minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, had agreed on Thursday to the use of military health practitioners from Friday to ease the burden on Gauteng health professionals, who are under intense pressure.

Kubayi-Ngubane said she was very concerned about the rate of infection in Gauteng, which had passed the numbers of the first and second waves. It was worrying that people in the province were still participating in protests and illegal gatherings.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases reported that on Thursday, Gauteng recorded 7,502 new cases — the highest in the country, which had a total of 11,767 new cases.

Kubayi-Ngubane said work was under way to restore the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg — which suffered a devastating fire two months ago — back to working order so that more beds were made available. Next week the oncology unit will start operating. Non-urgent and non-critical operations in the province will be postponed.

Health department director-general Sandile Buthelezi said Gauteng would not be using field hospitals because of their expense and the fact that they were not fully used during previous waves of the epidemic, but 1,100 extra beds had been made available to bring the total in the province to nearly 4,000. There has been a critical shortage of beds as the third Covid-19 wave hit the province.

Deputy director-general Anban Pillay gave an assurance that there were would be significant quantities of vaccines — both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — in the third quarter beginning July, which would see the national vaccination campaign being ramped up. By Thursday, two-million people had been vaccinated.

A total of 300,000 J&J vaccines arrived in SA on Thursday, 1.3-million Pfizer vaccines would be delivered through the global Covax facility at the end of the month and 1.2-million J&J vaccines would arrive in the next 10 days.

Vaccinations of 582,000 teachers and other staff in the education sector will commence next week and continue over 10 days and this will be followed first of all by the vaccination of 151,000 staff in the police service and then by the vaccination of the members of the defence force (which has its own health practitioners to conduct its own programme) and correctional services staff.

Prof Barry Kistnasamy, who is overseeing the vaccination of workplaces, told the briefing that the initial focus would be on sectors with a high risk of transmission. The first phase would be workers aged 60 years and above, of which there were about 416,000 people, followed the workers 40 years and above of which there are about 4.8-million.

Pilot projects had been undertaken already in mining in the North West and a manufacturing plant in Gauteng. Next week workers at a state-owned enterprise in Mpumalanga and a taxi operation in Gauteng will be vaccinated followed by a pilot project in the public service in the Western Cape in two weeks’ time. A total of 145 workplace sites had been identified in the private sector across all provinces and sectors, Kistnasamy said.

Head of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) Prof Helen Rees gave an update on the evaluation of the Russian Sputnik and Chinese Sinovac vaccines, approval for which had been applied for. She said data was still being submitted for the Sputnik vaccine so a complete review at this stage was not possible.

The evaluation of the Sinovac vaccine would be aided by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) evaluation. The WHO has given an emergency use listing for Sinovac.

SA Medical Research Council CEO and head of the Sisonke programme for the vaccination of health workers Prof Glenda Gray noted that there had been a some breakthrough infections in vaccinated health workers but most of them had been mild. Most of those who suffered severe infections had had comorbidities. The vaccines had provided a good and durable response to Covid-19, she said.



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