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“It has been a very rough journey, one might say and in that process, we learnt a lot and made many mistakes, but we also achieved a lot,” says Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize. As South Africa marks a year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported on 5 March 2020, the Minister paid a visit to Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, where the first patient who suffered from the virus was admitted.  

“On this day one year ago, we received the shocking news and we look back at the year and thank South Africans for the fearless manner in which they approached the fight against the virus,” Mkhize said as he addressed staff at the KwaZulu-Natal hospital.

He recalled how he made a phone call to President Cyril Rampahosa confirming the news of the country’s first case, saying the day was filled with trepidation and anxiety.

“… This is the call I wish to have never had to make,” he said.

Mkhize, who visited “patient zero”, said that in hindsight, the man “was doing so well”.

The Minister paid tribute to the role played by healthcare workers across the country, while also thanking South Africans for adhering to lockdown regulations.

“[The lockdown] had to be done and we thank South Africans for cooperating,” he said in his address.

Prior to delivering his remarks, a moment of silence was observed in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives to the virus.

Also going down memory lane was Dr Bradley Naidoo, who recalled a phone call in which he learnt of the admission of the first COVID-19 patient not only in the province, but in the country.

Naidoo had been on his last night shift before he was due to go on leave.

“I received a call around midnight and a million thoughts ran through my mind,” said the doctor.

He said the patient’s needs were placed first and that there was great relief when he was discharged.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, who accompanied the Minister at the commemoration, thanked healthcare workers for their dedication.

“As a province, we were the first to experience the first case,” he said, recalling the shock and anxiety.

While new COVID-19 cases are falling, the Premier warned against complacency.

“We are not out of the woods yet; we must be responsible. We are not out of this pandemic. We must ensure we fight fake news and disinformation,” said the Premier.

Reflecting on the path travelled, Mkhize urged South Africans to be patient as the country obtains vaccines. This as healthcare workers are currently being inoculated.

“We were always clear that we needed a vaccine, vaccination doses for everyone will come,” he said.

In his address to the nation on Sunday, President Ramaphosa said once the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed, phase two of the vaccination rollout will begin in late April or early May.

Phase two will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with comorbidities.

For the second phase, more sites for vaccination in the public and private healthcare sector will be activated.

“We have recently signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to secure 11 million doses.  Of these doses, 2.8 million doses will be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year,” said the President.

Government has also secured 20 million doses from Pfizer, which will be delivered from the second quarter. In addition, 12 million vaccine doses from the COVAX facility have been secured, and South Africa is in the process of finalising dose allocation from the African Union.

Mkhize assured the public that the country is on course.

“We want to say to South Africans, the country is on course. We don’t have the same fear we had a year ago. Our health workers are currently receiving vaccines,” said the Minister.

To date, over 90 000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated. South Africa is targeting to vaccinate 40 million citizens in order to achieve heard immunity.


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