Monday May 31, 2021

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the decision by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to move the country to adjusted Alert Level 2 of the COVID-19 lockdown as part of government’s Risk Adjusted Strategy.

The President reported that we have seen a sustained increase of COVID-19 infections over the last four weeks. Over the last seven days, we have seen an average of 3,745 daily new infections. This is an increase of 31% from the previous week, and an increase of 66% on the week before that. The proportion of COVID-19 tests that are positive have more than doubled in the last month from around 4% to more than 11%.

As NEHAWU, we strongly believe that the reaction by the government is a bit delayed considering that the provinces of Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Gauteng have reached the threshold of a third wave of infections. In fact scientists predict that the Northern Cape might be coming off their third wave. This shows that the government has not learned anything from the two past waves of COVID-19 infections. Once again, our government is reacting very late without putting measures in place in order for the country to survive another spike in new infections which leads to mass hospitalisations which ultimately puts more strain on our already overstretched healthcare system.

NEHAWU has been at the forefront of putting pressure on the government to prepare our healthcare institutions to be ready for a third wave. Our call to government has been centred on the procurement of more oxygen points, ventilators, more hospital beds and the hiring of more healthcare workers in order to deal with the scourge of understaffing. Government has been moving slowly in putting measures in place and this will lead to our members and workers who are frontline workers getting infected and at times losing their lives. In this regard, we will continue to encourage our members and workers not to work if they feel that their lives are in danger because of the failure by employers to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

In his address the President failed to mention that the first phase which was focused on frontline workers failed dismally to reach its target of vaccinating 1.25 million frontline workers. As NEHAWU, we are still very concerned that the second phase started without the conclusion of the first phase. Our concern is based on the fact that the vaccination of frontline workers was very slow and missed its target of vaccinating 1.25 million frontline workers, instead at the start of phase 2 only a mere 479 768 workers were vaccinated. This is a dire situation considering a majority of our members and workers will face the third wave without being vaccinated.

We commend the effort by the South African government to build domestic vaccine productive capacity and hope that more countries will continue to call for the waiver of the relevant clauses of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS. Furthermore, we welcome the testing of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the Russian produced Sputnik by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to use in the country. We also call on our government to look into Cuban vaccines and other medical supplies as well.

Lastly, we call on all our people not to be complacent and continue to practise non-pharmaceutical interventions to protect themselves and their loved ones. As much as vaccines will help to flatten the curve of new infections but our people must continue to always wear a face mask that covers both the mouth and nose, sanitise our hands or wash with soap for more than 20 seconds including avoiding crowded spaces.  

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: