SINCE March when the inoculation of people against COVID-19 has started more than 20 000 people in Namibia have already taken the first shot and most are due for the second injection.
The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr. Kalumbi Shangula addressed the nation about the latest interventions and response measures from State House and said that the health authority has established a total of 383 COVID-19 vaccination sites in different health districts around the country. Of these, 181 are fixed, 154 are mobile and 48 are stationed at outreach points.
“It is encouraging that more and more Namibians are coming forward to get vaccinated. So far, more than 20 315 persons have already been vaccinated around the country following the rollout of the nationwide vaccination programme. This is indeed an encouraging positive public response. We call upon more Namibians to go and get vaccinated,” he said.
Dr. Shangula said that the vaccination programme is being rolled out under the auspices of the existing Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), through which the Ministry has implemented vaccination campaigns in the past.
“This approach means that we do not have to create new structures and capacities to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Rather, we are harnessing existing knowledge, expertise, facilities, and infrastructure already in place. In this manner, we are able to benefit from cost savings, administrative efficiencies, and logistical arrangements,” he said.
With regards to incidences where some individuals have been turned away from vaccination sites and denied vaccination because they did not have national identification documents, he said that no eligible person should be turned away and denied vaccination.
“Persons without a National ID can be vouched for by another person with the National Identification Document, who knows him or her and receive COVID-19 vaccination. Also, documents such as health passports, Voters Registration Cards, documents from church authorities, and driver’s license may serve as identification documents,” he said.
Dr. Shangula said that in instances where none of these documents can be produced, such a person may simply provide their birth date, and if the birth date is unknown, the health workers will use the date of vaccination and the person’s name for record purposes.
“Again, the nation should know that the vaccines are available for all Namibians and people residing in Namibia at no cost. We will continue to share this vital information as part of our public education and awareness-raising campaigns on COVID-19 vaccination,” he stressed.
The health minister reiterated that the national COVID-19 response and preparedness are informed and guided by the available scientific information and data. The experts and health care workers who are involved in the planning of the public health measures and health interventions continue to engage and consult with their counterparts around the world to ensure that Namibia’s response is effective and produces the desired results.
“The COVID-19 epidemiological trend in Namibia calls for greater vigilance. It calls for all of us to take personal responsibility to suppress the spread of new infections. While our country has done relatively well, it will be self-defeating if we let our guard down now,” he said.
Dr. Shangula said that Namibia has continued to improve local laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19 and by bringing more laboratories on board, the health ministry has also established capacity for genome sequencing at the University of Namibia.
“Genome sequencing conducted at UNAM indicates that the Variant of Concern (VOC), initially discovered in South Africa (B.1.351), is present in 60% of the samples analyzed in February. The Variant of Concern, B.1.1.7 initially discovered in the UK was detected in three of the samples analyzed. Going forward, we will utilize this scientific capacity as part of our national response and preparedness against COVID-19,” he said.
The health minister said Namibia will do well to learn lessons from other countries, where the pandemic has overwhelmed health systems.
“The onus of responsibility rests upon all of us as a nation to prevent such horrific scenarios. We can do it by complying with the public health measures that have been put in place. We can do it by making the preventive and hygiene practices part and parcel of our daily lives. This is particularly important as we approach the winter season where people tend to be close together in close settings and where influenza illnesses tend to proliferate,” he said.
According to Dr. Shangula, the central message has been and continues to be that the government must always aim to protect both the lives and livelihoods of people. He said that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various sectors of the economy is grave.
“Therefore, it is critical that we return our national economy on the trajectory of growth. It is for this reason that we continue to review the measures put in place cognizant of the fact that our society and our economy have been hurt by the impact of the pandemic,” he said.
Dr. Shangula said that the epidemiological curve has not shown a downward trajectory to the levels where it can be stated that Namibia is out of the woods, as far as COVID-19 infections, related illnesses, and deaths are concerned.
“We are still far from sustainably flattening the curve,” he said.
The health minister said the National COVID-19 Dashboard Monitoring Team and the National Health Emergency Management Committee made recommendations for public health measures that will come into force at midnight on Friday the 30th of April 2021. He said that the regulation remains in place as is until 31 May 2021
He said that the enforcement of compliance with the wearing of masks must be strengthened and he urged community leaders, traditional leaders, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers to assist with the effort.
The health minister said the regulation for public gatherings remains the same at 100 persons for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
He stated that measures related to education remain unchanged. Learners from Boarding Schools where active transmission of COVID-19 is taking place will remain in the boarding facilities.
Dr. Shangula said spectators are allowed at sports events but pointed out that the number of spectators shall not exceed 100 persons. All persons attending such an event shall comply with COVID-19 protocols.
With regards to restrictions relating to entry into Namibia, he said that a person who leaves Namibia for another country with a negative COVID-19 result and returns within the validity period of such test shall not be subjected to a COVID-19 test upon returning to Namibia.
Dr. Shangula said Namibians who return to the country without COVID-19 results are quarantined either in-home quarantine or government-supervised quarantine and added that all persons seeking home quarantine must submit an application for supervised home quarantine.
“Home quarantine is approved when the home environment is suitable for effective quarantine. Persons whose homes are unsuitable for home quarantine will be quarantined in identified facilities at their own cost. The exemption for those who qualify still applies. All quarantined persons will be tested on Day 7 and released with negative results or placed in isolation when positive for COVID-19,” he said.
With regard to public transport, the health minister said that operators are permitted to load to full capacity and added that the enforcement of compliance with regulations will be enhanced by authorities. He said that the designation of COVID-19 response centres, quarantine facilities, and isolation facilities have been amended by adding the following phrases: “any other place, premise, establishment or any other place other than health facilities” to the regulation.
He said the PCR test for COVID-19 remains unchanged and added that negative Antigen Rapid Diagnostic results are recognised and accepted in Namibia. He pointed out that only nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs are required and not blood specimens and added that a person tested for COVID-19 should not travel pending his or her results.
With regard to COVID-19 related deaths and burials, he said that only two persons will be permitted to view the body of the deceased at a time and then only for two minutes. Such persons shall maintain all COVID-19 prevention measures.
“The maximum number of people at the burial of COVID-19 death (s) remains the same as for other public gatherings. The law enforcers shall ensure compliance with this regulation taking into account the sensitivity towards the bereaved family,” he said.
Dr. Shangula said that the Ministry of Health and Social Services is responsible for transporting the body back to the home town if the family cannot afford the undertaker services.
The body of a person who died as a result of Covid-19 complications outside Namibia shall be allowed in Namibia if cremated.
No change was made to the current time of the nightly and the regulation governing the sale of alcohol has also remained unchanged.
“Adherence or compliance by the public with the regulations are strongly encouraged but shall be strengthened by law enforcement officers,” he warned.
He said the measures might be difficult but they are necessary.
“We need to have them in order to suppress the further spread of new infections, severe illnesses, and avoidable deaths. For the sake of our country, our citizens, and all those who find themselves within our borders, we must tolerate this temporary pain for future prosperity.
Everything we do must be aimed at ensuring that our health system is not overwhelmed by the pandemic,” he concluded.