Lockdown one year on, the Western Cape continues to fight to save lives

Tomorrow, the country will mark a full year since the COVID-19 lockdown first came into effect.  

On that same day, the Western Cape recorded its first COVID-19 death. As a government, we continue to fight every day to minimize the impact of this pandemic and to save lives. In this regard, our professional teams are working with vigour and determination to prepare for a third wave, alerting our residents to the coming increase in cases, ensuring we have enough oxygen, beds and healthcare professionals, working to get more vaccines, and ensuring that budget is available to cater for the care and support our residents will need to navigate the year ahead. We are also going further, exploring how we can use the lessons of our fight against COVID-19 to tackle TB. 

Initially, the lockdown was only supposed to last three weeks. It was a timeous attempt to slow the spread of a virus which we had seen wreak havoc elsewhere in the world, and which we knew very little about at the time, so that government could prepare adequate healthcare facilities to meet the challenge to come. In the Western Cape, we put this time to good use.  

As the harsh lockdown was extended, it soon became apparent that we were fighting two pandemics- on the one hand we had to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19, but on the other, South Africa’s economy was facing devastation, with thousands losing their jobs and hundreds of thousands going hungry. 

The country has remained on some level of lockdown throughout this year, as we battled two waves of the virus. Throughout this time, the Western Cape has always advocated for common-sense restrictions, which balance the need to save lives, with allowing the economy to reopen when it has been safe to do so. As we face the potential of a third wave in the coming months, we need to continue to walk the fine line between protecting our healthcare system, saving lives, and protecting jobs in our province. 

Healthcare response: 

Throughout both waves experienced so far, we have worked hard to ensure that our healthcare system was geared for the high pressure peaks of infection. Our decisions have always been based on scientific evidence and data from global experts, and our own top researchers. 

  • We established dedicated field hospitals, including at the CTICC, and in Khayelitsha in partnership with MSF. Our field hospitals at Brackengate, Sonstraal in Paarl, and in Mitchells Plain continue to operate, while additional beds were added in other facilities around the province. 
  • The new variant of COVID-19 which is more transmissible, resulted in higher numbers of infections and therefore more hospitalisations. Despite hospital beds and oxygen use coming under pressure in the second wave, we were able to provide appropriate care to all who needed it.  
  • We used the second wave to invest in more permanent infrastructure in our existing facilities including adding beds and oxygen facilities. We have also started to address some of the oxygen capacity challenges at a facility level ahead of a possible third wave and are confident we will have enough supply. 
  • We have recruited additional healthcare workers to bolster our front line. 
  • We took steps to protect those most vulnerable to infection. This included an innovative programme to deliver medicines to the homes of chronic patients, ensuring that they could continue treatment, while staying safely at home. This programme remains in place, having delivered over 1.4 million medicine parcels in the province since 1 April 2020.  
  • When our data showed that diabetics are at the highest risk, we introduced the Vector telemedicine programme, linking diabetics with COVID-19 to our doctors through daily telephone calls, and hospitalizing high risk patients early to improve health outcomes.  A total of 10 928 diabetics have been assisted by the VECTOR team, with 4935 of these falling into the high-risk category. In this high-risk category, 87% have recovered. 
  • Our Department of Social Development has provided funding and training to old aged homes to protect the elderly. 
  • We trialled the use of innovative therapeutics, including dexamethasone, and widely rolled this treatment out to patients in our hospitals, saving many lives 
  • To protect healthcare workers and provide reliable transport, we introduced the Red Dot Taxi service in partnership with the Western Cape taxi industry. 
  • We have conducted seroprevalence studies, implemented wastewater testing and performed over 1.4 million COVID-19 tests to provide us with data to inform our decision making. 
  • In February this year, this province made history when the first South African healthcare worker was vaccinated as part of the Sisonke implementation trial. Since then, over 38 000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated in the Western Cape. 

Vaccines will save lives and will be vital in ending lockdowns completely. That is why we have been moving as quickly as we can to secure more vaccines into the Western Cape. 

  • We are making sure we efficiently rollout all vaccines supplied to us through the Sisonke project  
  • We have developed our own contingency vaccine procurement strategy  
  • We have put aside a dedicated budget for vaccine procurement provincially, and this has now formally been tabled in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament  
  • We have contacted/been approached by 28 entities and are following up with due diligence in terms of a Supply Chain Management process 
  • We have specifically approached both Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer so that we can procure vaccines from them, and will continue to liaise with them on sourcing to sub-national entities 
  • We are setting up engagements with foreign governments to discuss additional supplies of approved vaccines  
  • We are engaging with the private sector, through our established public-private platforms 

At the same time, we are ensuring that we are fully prepared for the logistical exercise of rolling out vaccines to large numbers of people in the Western Cape under phase 2 and 3 so that we have an efficient and successful vaccine roll-out programme in the Western Cape.  

Recovery response: 

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected our health sector, but all sectors of our society. The humanitarian crisis caused by the hard lockdown and the closure of certain key sectors of our economy required an immediate response. Our recovery response was devised to focus on three areas- jobs, safety, and dignity and wellbeing. 

Jobs: 

Over the past year, the Western Cape has promoted tourism and investment, and provided vital support to small and large businesses, which has helped to create or sustain thousands of jobs and economic opportunities. 

  • To support SMMEs, the R39 million Covid-19 Business Relief Fund was established and provided relief to 257 businesses across the Western Cape, sustaining 2 041 jobs.  
  • To support the wine tourism economy, which was battered by restrictions and the collapse in tourism, we registered 1 165 employees for the Wine Tourism Workers Support Stipend.  
  • Our Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport provided R4.7 million in relief funding to 753 successful arts, culture and heritage applicants. 
  • We worked with the Deeds Office and helped reduce their backlog by over 25 000 applications, assisting the construction industry to continue working. 
  • We facilitated the placement of 3 500 young people in workplaces.  
  • We assisted the Port of Cape Town in improving their operational challenges, especially around the processing times at container terminals, helping to support exports. Through these collaborative efforts, we also made it possible for the refit and maintenance project of the Gariep mining vessel to be approved and completed during what was a very challenging time for the port.  
  • We supported the tourism economy, by lobbying for the George Airport to be reopened, after initially not being on the approved list announced by the National Minister of Transport.  
  • In a collaborative effort between our Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Department of Health and ACSA, we were able to find a solution that ensured COVID-19 screening was possible.  
  • To support the informal economy, we partnered with the EDP on a pilot project that supported the township economy and the humanitarian response by giving community kitchens vouchers to buy stock from local spaza shops. 
  • Since the start of the financial year in April, our entities have facilitated 9 investments into the Western Cape Economy- 5 by Wesgro, 3 by the Saldanha Bay IDZ, and 1 in the Atlantis SEZ. Together, these three entities have helped secure over R 4 billion investment which will create over 1000 jobs.  
  • We have also supported small businesses to stay safe and adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols by providing 11 000 Covid-19 safety kits to businesses across the province.  
  • We also distributed over 100 000 masks to agri workers in our province.  

Safety: 

As Premier, I committed to making this province safer, and we will continue to roll out our safety plan. 

  • Throughout the lockdown we have worked closely with SAPS in the province, who are represented in all of our weekly extended cabinet meetings, to ensure safety in our communities, and adherence to the lockdown regulations. 
  • The first 500 LEAP officers were deployed just before the lockdown- and throughout the lockdown were instrumental in sharing information and ensuring people remained safe. The next 250 LEAP officers will begin training next month, with a further 250 starting training in July. By October, a total of 1000 LEAP officers will be active in crime hotspots in our province. 
  • We are also working with rural municipalities to deploy trained peace officers in vulnerable municipalities. An additional 120 of these officers will be trained and deployed to six vulnerable municipalities in the province.  
  • In October, the Department of Community Safety launched a K9 unit in the West Coast District Municipality to aid with crime detection. Funding has also been transferred to the City of Cape Town to support their K9 unit. 
  • During the lockdown, we advocated for accredited neighbourhood watches to be allowed to operate in communities. We also partnered with and funded neighbourhood watches to assist in COVID-19 enforcement, as part of our hotspot management strategy. 
  • In the year ahead, we will be training 1000 young people in communities to act as safety ambassadors. They will play an important role in creating safer communities and will also receive a monthly stipend and training opportunities to better their job prospects. 
  • To fight gender-based violence, the Department of Community Safety’s court watching brief’s unit prioritised GBV-related cases to track and identify inefficiencies in the criminal justice system. In addition, GBV matters that have been removed from court rolls will be prioritised to ensure they are re-enrolled.  
  • The Department of Social Development will in the coming weeks open a total of six new safe houses or shelters in rural municipalities in the Western Cape. To strengthen our after-hours response to gender-based violence, 30 additional social workers have been appointed to assist in GBV hotspots in the evenings and on weekends. 

Dignity and wellbeing: 

Early on in the hard lockdown, the Western Cape Government released emergency funding for food relief.  

  • The Western Cape delivered food parcels and meals to the vulnerable and was the only province to feed school learners throughout the lockdown period.  
  • To ensure food security, the Department of Agriculture has been working to deliver food gardens to families and communities to help them grow their own food and supplement their diets with nutritious food. Over 5000 food gardens have been rolled out in the past year, with another 1800 planned for the year ahead. 
  • Our Department of Education worked hard to ensure that learning could continue during the lockdown, by providing additional learning resources. When learners returned to school the Department provided the resources required to ensure that this was done safely. 
  • Despite delays due to COVID-19, the Department of Human Settlements has continued to hand over title deeds and homes across the province. As announced in my State of the Province Address in February, the Department is also working on a number of innovative initiatives-including subsidies to first time home buyers- to accelerate housing delivery. 
  • The Department of Social Development has funded 1000 additional bed spaces in homeless shelters for the 2021/22 financial year, almost doubling the 1499 currently funded spaces. 
  • The Department has also provided funding and support to ECDs to ensure that this crucial service could reopen. 
  • We have developed the Blue Dot taxi pilot project, based on the success of the Red Dot project, to provide safe and efficient public transport to residents, in partnership with taxi associations. 

Governance: 

The Western Cape Government started planning our emergency response before we registered our first case. When the lockdown was announced, our emergency response was based on workstreams, with extended cabinet meetings and updates taking place daily. 

  • We continue to hold weekly extended cabinet meetings, which involve representatives from our municipalities, and SAPS to ensure a co-ordinated and strategic response. 
  • We adopted the hotspot management strategy to manage the pandemic on the ground in areas and communities. This successful strategy is also being used to roll out our recovery response.  
  • We have worked closely with all spheres of government- including the national government. I have participated in regular President’s Co-ordinating Council meetings where I have advocated to evidence-backed regulations and the safe re-opening of our economy. 
  • We were the first province to transparently release details of our COVID-19 related expenditure to the public.

Information sharing and behaviour change: 

Throughout the pandemic, we have been open and honest with our residents, sharing information they need to keep themselves safe. For over a year, we have been holding weekly digicons, which we have run together with major communications campaigns using sms, loudhailing, community print and radio, social media, and radio. Our award-winning data dashboard has also allowed us to share up to date information with our residents. 

Covid is not gone:           

Our latest infection data paints a positive picture of the COVID-19 situation in the Western Cape as we stand here today, but we cannot become complacent. We all have an important role to play in ensuring that we mitigate any subsequent waves. Residents, businesses and communities all need to behave responsibly to ensure that we are able to protect ourselves and our loved ones and to save lives. 

While we have hope of a vaccine rollout on the horizon, our own behaviour is the most important tool we have at our disposal right now to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

I thank all of those residents, and all of the people and organisations who have partnered with us over the past year.  

I would like to send a special message of thanks to our health care workers and other essential workers who have been heroes on the frontline for over a year now. We salute you. 

Finally, I want to pay tribute to all of those who have lost their lives in this pandemic. Many have lost loved ones over the past year, and we honour their memory by continuing our fight against this virus.