The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the increase in COVID-19 transmission in certain parts of the country.

According to the National Department of Health there was an increase in new cases from 8593 cases preceding seven days (26th April to the 2nd May 2021) to 12 531 in the last seven days (from the 3rd May to the 9th May 2021) constituting a 46% increase. Most of the increases took place in Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Northern Cape and the Western Cape. COVID-19 death under the same period increased by 18.22% from 269 to 318. With most deaths taking place in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape.

The department also reports that under the very same period 25 healthcare workers tested positive bringing the total number of workers who have tested positive to 56 059 while 874 workers have lost their lives. As NEHAWU, we still believe these numbers are still very low as most employers conceal the test results of workers who test positive because they fear that they will be more understaffed.

While numbers have been skyrocketing the government and the Department of Health have been closing down the temporary treatment facilities, the vaccination program is very slow, and there is no indication of ramping up the acquisition of more ventilators, oxygen and extra beds in preparation for a third wave. Moreover, the COVID-19 messaging campaign is not yielding the desired results.

One of the findings of our fact-finding mission report pointed to understaffing as one of the major reasons why our healthcare system is overstretched. Government still unfortunately insists on not filling vacant posts in order to deal with the huge workload including employing Community Health Workers (CWHs) who can play a crucial role in the vaccination program.

The national union will demand an urgent meeting with the Minister to raise these issues sharply including the issues raised during our International Nurses Day Seminar which was convened on the 12th May 2021. The Minister has a duty to give us answers and inspire confidence to all South Africans that we will be able to ward off the imminent third wave. Our members and workers working as frontline workers are already anxious and worried about the hospitalisations from the recent resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

While we note the assurance from the department that we should not panic about the detection of the B.1.617.2 and the B.1.1.7 variants in the country. However, we need a concrete plan on how these cases will be averted from spreading including the intensified monitoring of people who come to our shores.

While the government has an obligation to ensure that our healthcare system will be ready to deal with the resurgence of COVID-19 infections our people also have to ensure that they stick to all protocols and regulations to protect themselves and their loved ones. In this regard, we call on all our people to continue to stay safe and practice non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing a mask, social distancing and the washing of hands with soap for 20 seconds or using an alcohol based sanitizer. 

On the slow vaccination program

The national union is extremely worried that the government is behind its target for the vaccination of frontline workers. When the program commenced the government promised to vaccinate more than 1.25 million workers as part of the first phase of the vaccination programme. However, as of yesterday only 430 730 frontline workers have received the vaccine.

What worries us the most is the fact that the first phase is coming to an end with the second phase starting on Monday without the conclusion of the current phase. This has created panic amongst workers and led to the horrific scenes that played out at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital vaccination centre this morning where workers were standing in long queues and jostling to enter the hospital premises.

This proves beyond reasonable doubt that there was no proper planning as workers who had no vouchers or appointments were also on the queue because of proper communication by the department. Such incidents have the potential to be super spreaders and we demand that the department puts immediate measures to avert them from taking place in the future.

In the meeting with the Minister we will also seek answers in relation to the ramping up of the acquisition of vaccines, the increase of vaccination sites and the improvement of communication to both workers and the general public.

Lastly, NEHAWU reiterates its call for the government to consider the procurement of vaccines from Cuba, China and Russia instead of focusing on western countries. Any further delay in the procurement of vaccines will have devastating results as we head into the winter season.  

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500 or email: