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‘Optimistic’ Joe Phaahla says a lockdown-free Christmas is in your hands

Health minister Joe Phaahla says a lockdown-free Christmas will depend on the public’s behaviour.
Health minister Joe Phaahla says a lockdown-free Christmas will depend on the public’s behaviour.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Health minister Joe Phaahla says the ball is in the public's court regarding this year’s Christmas celebrations.

Speaking on eNCA this week, Phaahla said a lockdown-free Christmas was a possibility but it would depend on the public’s behaviour amid the Omicron variant and fourth wave of Covid-19 infections. 

Phaahla acknowledged the virus was spreading quicker than in previous waves. However, he said the “silver lining” was that hospitalisations and deaths were relatively low.

He said his department would make recommendations to the national coronavirus command council when they meet on Tuesday. 

“It is promising [to have a lockdown-free Christmas]. There’s a possibility at this stage, when we look at where we were this time last year,” said Phaahla. 

“The fourth wave is promising. By the time we were in the second wave, around the same time last year, we were starting to get into serious trouble.

“It’s much more promising now. We are cautious, optimistic, but it is going to depend on our behaviour.”

While there are many unknowns at play, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases recommended  people should avoid events that may become superspreaders, including indoor gatherings in poorly ventilated venues and large gatherings.

Head of the division of public health surveillance and response, Dr Michelle Groome, said adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions were key to mitigating the impact of the fourth wave of infections.

“If individuals remain steadfast in implementing physical and social distancing, and by wearing their masks, transmission of the disease and ultimately the negative impact on our health sector will be lessened,” said Groome.

Prof Salim Abdool Karim previously proposed that those who are not vaccinated should not be allowed at events and gatherings held in “risky” indoor settings.

He said this was because vaccinated people are less likely than unvaccinated people to have severe Covid-19 illness.

“Even though we are likely to see reinfections and breakthrough infections, vaccinated people are less likely to have severe Covid-19. One of the things is to restrict risky situations, particularly indoors, to vaccinated people only,” said Abdool Karim.

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