Health minister outlines Covid-19 response

20th briefing

01 December 2020 | Health

Dr Kalumbi Shangula; Health minister; “…a disturbing wave of a false sense of security has swept over our country.”

The minister of health and social services Dr Kalumbi Shangula, highlighted various measures put in place at the 20th Covid-19 briefing.

Shangula said that Covid-19 laboratory testing capacity has increased significantly.

“As a result, the turnaround time is reduced from an average of 5-10 days to 24-72 hours. There are now six laboratories with the capacity to do Covid-19 testing. A testing backlog that stood at more than 5 000 samples in August/September, has since been cleared.”

According to the minister, Namibia is considering the introduction of Covid-19 antigen Rapid Diagnostic Testing (RDT) as part of its response.

“The Laboratory Services Pillar with support from developmental and multilateral partners, have identified WHO pre-qualified antigen rapid diagnostic testing kits that Namibia may use. We have received commitment from development partners to avail 150 000 antigen RDT kits to the country. Once available, antigen testing will be conducted at Port of Entry and for patients requiring emergency surgery.”

The minister said that a reduction in cases by 31% was observed from 22 October to 30 November.

“We observed a significant increase in recoveries during the period under review. By 21 October 2020, the percentage of recovery was 85%. This increased to 94% by 29 November 2020.”

An increase in clustered infections in institutions and congregated settings, such as hostels at boarding schools, police holding cells and corrections service facilities have been observed.

“It has proven a challenge to implement social distancing measures in these settings. Additionally, a concerning situation is observed in Lüderitz where a sharp increase in the number of confirmed cases has been recorded. In the last seven days, 102 cases were confirmed compared to 63 in the previous two weeks. We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Severity

An 80% reduction in severe and critical cases was observed since mid-August.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Namibia has lost 151 lives to Covid-19. It is comforting that we have been observing a decline in the number of fatalities.”

The number of Covid-19 cases amongst healthcare workers is still a concern l.
“Infections among healthcare workers have reduced by 62% from 97 to 37 cases. The total number of healthcare workers who have been infected with Covid-19 now stands at 554 of which 530 have recovered and 3 have unfortunately passed away.”

Tourism

Namibia had also experienced an increase in the number of tourists visiting.

“Since the implementation of the Tourism Revival Initiative, 4 164 tourists have arrived. Only three of these tested positive for Covid-19 to date. Our requirement for a 72-hours valid PRC negative test has eliminated potential infected tourists coming to Namibia.”

Expense

Namibia prepared and implemented a response plan to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

“The ministry was allocated N$727 million to help fight the pandemic. To date, N$673 470 536.24 (92%) has been spent.”

The costs incurred went to quarantine facilities accounts (20%), PPE Packs (Hartman, IPC Kit) and other protective equipment (18%), construction renovation and other (15%), procurement of medical equipment (16%) and the remainder was spent on amongst others the COVAX Vaccine, testing and personnel expenditure.

“The Covid-19 Accountability Report was tabled by Cabinet, and the Covid-19 Audited Report by the Office of the Auditor General is still to be finalized by that office.”

Reduction

The minister said that current data is not yet pointing to a second wave in Namibia but that the nation needs to remain vigilant.

“The reduction in the number of new cases has provided a welcome reprieve. With the re-opening of borders and trade activities, the importation of cases from other parts of the world remains a real risk. In fact, for the past four days, we have observed an upsurge in the number of new cases in Khomas and //Kharas.”

Vaccine

Interest in Covid-19 vaccines was rekindled with the announcement by Pfizer that it has developed a vaccine that is 90% effective.

“Namibia has signed up to participate in the COVAX Facility, an international initiative to facilitate access to a Covid-19 vaccine, once it is fully approved.”

The country signed a Commitment Agreement to secure doses to vaccinate at least 20% of the population.

“Treasury approval has been granted to make a 15% upfront payment to the COVAX Facility. The successful implementation of the vaccine, once it becomes available, requires support from all members of the public. On its part, government will ensure sharing of factual and complete information so that our people are provided complete and accurate information.”

Challenges

The ministry has experienced incidences where family members are intent to repatriate human remains of relatives who have died in neighbouring countries.

“They arrive at our ports of entry without prior notification to the authorities and also without appropriate documentation or proof of Covid-19 test results to facilitate entry into the country.”

The minister emphasised that the transportation of human remains by bus, with passengers on board, while the Covid-19 status of such remains is unknown, is a public health hazard and a potential risk for Covid-19 transmission.

“Human remains should only be repatriated after appropriate approval from the relevant authorities has been obtained. This will also help avoid unnecessary inconveniences and safeguard public health.”

The ministry of health has also received reports of foreign nationals gathering at the ports of entry, seeking to enter Namibia without valid Covid-19 test results.

“There are also those trading or conducting business activities at ports of entry, in what is known as “No-man’s Land”. This may pose a high risk for Covid-19 transmission, especially to security personnel, immigration officers, port health officers and to truck drivers. For this reason, there is a need to strengthen law enforcement and bilateral engagements to disperse such crowds.”

The minister also stated that health officials are worried about the continued excessive use of alcohol among members of the public, leading to an increase in domestic violence cases, gender-based violence and motor vehicle accidents.

“The public is again urged to refrain from excessive use of alcohol and thereby avoid its destructive impact on our society.”

Some members of the public have also become relaxed in the recent weeks.

“Since the reported decrease in the number of positive cases, a disturbing wave of a false sense of security has swept over our country. Many people are no longer wearing face masks when they go out in public. Those who wear masks are not wearing them correctly. Physical distancing is not being observed. People are conducting themselves as if Covid-19 is no longer amongst us.”

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