Saturday, 09 October
The creation of the South African Covid-19 Vaccine Certificate System has been long in the making, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday during a briefing. The department officially launched the system on Friday.
“We are happy today that we can introduce it to the public formally,” said Phaahla.
The system is available to adults who are fully vaccinated. It came online in the first week of October during a testing and troubleshooting phase, and resulted in multiple errors.
“Some people have expressed frustration because of hiccups in accessing these certificates,” said Phaahla, but reassured that there would be improvements going forward.
The system produces a digital copy of the physical Covid vaccine card, and is linked to the vaccination code issued by the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), as explained by Business Insider SA.
Provide opportunities for the vaccinated
The digital vaccine certificate will allow vaccinated people to move about more freely and offer them opportunities to engage more safely in a number of activities, said Phaahla.
“We expect that the certificate will be a tool for vaccinated people to access … many amenities, and many more activities which many of us have been missing, and can now be accessed through this certificate,” he said.
Earlier this week, President Ramaphosa said in a statement: “Our approach is informed by the World Health Organisation guidelines and is in line with international best practice.”
SA off UK’s red list
South Africa is also set to be removed from the UK’s red list after five months. This means that fully vaccinated travellers from SA will be allowed to enter the UK without needing to quarantine.
Moreover, SA’s digital vaccine certificates will also be considered as valid proof of vaccination by the UK government.
EVDS project manager, Milani Wolmarans, said this would also apply to most countries across the globe but that it is, however, dependent on the policy of the country in which one would be visiting as well as what their verification requirements would be.
Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), also weighed in:
“The fact that it is accepted in many countries is key because … the issue around trust is important – we don’t want countries to look at us and say they don’t trust our digital vaccine certificate,” he said.
Mobile app to be launched
A mobile application will also soon be made available where people can conveniently access and download their Covid vaccination certificates, said Wolmarans.
A vaccinated individual can download their certificate immediately after they’ve received an SMS with their vaccination code, and it can be downloaded more than once. But there is a limit of 3-4 times per day, she explained.
People who have lost their vaccination codes can call the National Covid-19 Public Hotline on 0800 029 999 where one of the agents will assist. The Department of Health will also resend all vaccination codes via SMS over the next four days.
Wolmarans said that it’s the individual’s responsibility to keep their vaccination certificate up to date.
Safety and security, preventing fraud
Certain measures are being put in place by the government to avoid any form of fraud of the system, said Wolmarans. “We’ve got a cyber security specialist that is working with us to ensure that we are putting as stringent as possible security measures in place. We are working and protecting personal data as far as we possibly can, and not sharing the data with anybody,” she said.
The platform will also introduce the availability of ta QR code in a readable form, and the plan is to release it, latest, at the end of October 2021, she said.
“The QR code will have the cryptic graphic signatures that are then linked to the PKI (public and private key) infrastructure that would prevent any fraudulent production of any vaccination card, and that would be the official vaccination card with all the securities linked to that,” she said.
According to Wolmarans, it is a huge complicated technology platform that will ensure that the government adheres to international standards.
End of the third wave
Phaahla confirmed that SA has exited the third wave, which he described as “very welcoming information.” The third wave has lasted much longer than the previous two waves, he said.
There are, however, still some concerns in some provinces including the Northern Cape and Free State, whose positivity case rate remains above 5%, he added.
“We are entering stable territory,” said Phaahla. “Due to this encouraging decline in infections and stability of the pandemic, SA was able to move to level 1 lockdown recently. [However] we must not think this pandemic is over. We are just being given breathing space,” he added.
He stated that 5 000 people were currently in hospital with Covid infection, of whom 885 were in ICU, and 465 were on ventilators – “a reminder to all of us that this virus is still very strong,” said Phaahla.
“While the numbers are down, this killer virus remains in our midst,” he said.
SA can only sustain the low levels of Covid cases if people continue to observe the personal health and safety measures, including face mask use and physical distancing, he stressed.
SA’s vaccination programme
“Our vaccination programme, which is our most potent weapon against the pandemic, is now firmly on the ground and entrenched in our communities,” said Phaahla.
As of 7 October 2021, close to 19 million doses had been administered in the country.
According to Phaahla, just over 60% of people aged 60 years and older have been vaccinated, with Limpopo in the lead and other provinces following closely.
“We call on all South Africans and nationals in our country to come forward and be vaccinated. We have a window of opportunity now while infection rates are low to protect ourselves before the expected fourth wave later this year,” said Phaahla.
Trends in unvaccinated, hospitalisation
So far, countrywide, both in the public and private sector, the trends show that less than 20% of people who are hospitalised and particularly in ICU due to Covid-19 are vaccinated, said Dr Nicholas Crisp, acting director-general of the National Department of Health.
This includes individuals who have had only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“The consistent pattern is that vaccination definitely protects you from illness that results in hospitalisation,” he said, although he cautioned that more detailed analysis is required before making general statements about this, which the department is looking at. “As soon as we have that more detailed analysis, we will put it into the public space.”
Vaccination for younger age groups
The South African Health Products Authority (Sahpra) recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for usage for people aged 12-17 years. Phaahla said that the health department is following their risk-adjusted approach and that the focus, for now, remains on vaccinating the more vulnerable, older age groups.
“We do have plans which we will announce. As we get more [vaccination] coverage of the older age groups, we will be making more announcements before the end of this month in terms of when we can move into the lower age groups,” he said.
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