Programme Director;
Members of the Executive Council;
Public Officials present and Members of the Media
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

65TH ANNIVERSARY: FREEDOM CHARTER
On Friday, we commemorated 65 years since the multiracial Congress Alliance, led by the African National Congress, adopted the Freedom Charter in Kliptown, Soweto. It was from this great assembly in 1955 that the people of South Africa were able to consolidate and strengthen their march towards ultimate freedom from the shackles of Apartheid.

Through their tenacity and unity of purpose, they were able to stand up and chart a course for a better future under extremely challenging conditions. Given the eruption of Covid-19, we once again find ourselves at an epoch where nothing but courage and bravery will see us through.

Events of the past few days, where we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID – 19 infections and deaths, bear testimony to what the Minister of Heath, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has warned us about… that we are riding towards a devastating and decimating COVID – 19 storm.
Even though KwaZulu-Natal continues to maintain a rising but stable curve, we cannot afford to be complacent – particularly while the situation is getting worse in other provinces.

KZN COVID – 19 STATUS – SEVEN DAYS EMERGING TRENDS:
In KZN so far, we have had 7786 confirmed COVID cases, 112 deaths, and 3417 recoveries. A week ago, we had 5030 confirmed cases, 84 deaths, and 2594 recoveries. This means that in the past week, 2756 people have tested positive; 28 sadly lost their lives; while 823 thankfully recovered.

CO-MORBIDITIES (DECEASED)
The most common recorded co-morbidities among the deceased are hypertension (59%) and diabetes mellitus 52%. Nine of the deceased were reported to have been HIV positive.

SUMMARY OF LABORATORY-CONFIRMED CASES, AS OF 26 JUNE 2020:
KwaZulu-Natal has been receiving a variable number of new cases daily. The median number of cases reported in the province is 30 cases daily.
EThekwini, ILembe and UMgungundlovu have had a remarkable number of cases provincially. Approximately all the districts have had an upsurge of cases since the beginning of June 2020. Notably this week, UMgungundlovu District reported more cases than ILembe daily and now occupies the second spot in terms of the provincial infection rate. Ugu and Harry Gwala Districts are recording cases from the Eastern Cape due to their close proximity to the Province.

Ilembe District is now the third-highest district in terms of infection rates provincially. The district had a slight decrease in the number of new cases for the past two weeks.


EMERGING TRENDS: ETHEKWINI STILL THE EPICENTRE
EThekwini is still the epicenter of COVID – 19 in the province. We have noted that EThekwini south sub-district has had the highest curve with 1493 cases, followed by the northern sub-district with 1223, while the western sub-district has registered the fewest cases at 554.

In uMgungundlovu, the concerning sub-districts are uMsunduzi sub-district with 646 cases, and uMngeni with 57 cases. Before June, the other five sub-districts were reporting zero cases on daily basis. However, as of June even these sub-districts started to report new cases on daily basis.

HEALTHCARE WORKERS AFFECTED BY COVID - 19

A total of 478 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID – 19 in the province in both the public and private healthcare sectors. This includes doctors, nurses, allied healthcare workers and support staff.

INFECTION RATE: PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT
Provincial Government Departments have reported about 457 employees with positive cases

MOVES TO ERADICATE THE INFECTION OF STAFF:
Out of concern for the growing statistics in this regard, we are undertaking the following interventions per department:
• Intense and regular training of staff, this will include programmes to promote behavioral change, psychological maturity and de-stigmatization of COVID 19. We will also intensify training on donning and doffing procedures (that refers to how to put on the protective gear, and how to take it off safely). We also want all nurses to take on the role of being champions of COVID 19 so they can monitor each other. We will also continue consulting with labour unions in this regard.

CONTACT TRACING
KwaZulu-Natal has managed to identify 15 473 contacts. The province managed to monitor more than 99.9% of the identified contacts (n=15 457), and out of those, 98.8% (n=15 146/15 457) had their specimens collected. The positivity rate among contacts was 4.4% (n=660/15 146).
A total of 6,7 million people have been screened in the community and facilities from 8 April to date.
A total of 45 469 samples were tested from the community testing and screening. Out of these, 600 cases tested positive (1.1% proportion positivity).

RURAL COVID TREND
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have largely been reporting more impact in urban-based centres. The past few weeks have increasingly revealed that rural areas are the most vulnerable. This is evident in the number of infections from the rural based districts. We are seeing key vulnerabilities in rural areas influenced by, among other things, funerals and cultural engagements. There is less compliance and monitoring of Covid-19 protocols during these occasions. We are also noting that there is increasing non-compliance as more and more public transport operators are no longer adhering to Covid-19 health requirements. There is virtually no sanitisation that is taking place, social distance is compromised, and no regular decontamination is taking place. This is posing a risk of spreading infection at a rate that will overwhelm all of us. We are appealing to all involved in the public transport industry to ensure full compliance because when our people are healthy, the public transport industry will thrive. It is clear from the emerging statistics that the virus is moving around due to people’s failure to adhere to the precautionary measures.

FIGHTING THE STIGMA:
We wish to register our concern about the ongoing stigmatization of people who need to get tested, or those who test positive, because it is still a major challenge. There have been a number of cases whereby, when we need to fetch people so that they can be tested and quarantined… they plead with our teams to either come late at night to collect them; or send their vehicle a few houses down the road so that neighbours will not see them.
It is unacceptable that people should be forced to go to such lengths to hide their association with COVID – 19. It points to a clear lack of tolerance for others, and an understanding that COVID – 19 is a disease that can affect anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. People who have COVID – 19 or those who need to get tested need our support and understanding, not vilification and judgement.

IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY
As a province that derives a significant chunk of its economy on tourism, we welcome the easing of regulations that have seen further opening up of more economic sectors, especially those linked to the tourism sector. On Friday 26th June 2020, the COGTA Minister issued enhanced Level 3 tourism regulations, which allow for the opening of restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops for sitting down, under strict health protocols.

Under Level 3 regulations, hotels, lodges, bed & breakfasts and timeshare facilities, resorts and guesthouses are allowed to accommodate business travellers and essential service providers with certified travel permits. While noting the strain that this sector and its entire value chain is facing, we believe that this will go a long way in rebuilding this area of our economy.

We learned with trepidation last week that a 111 year-old Durban institution, the Edward Hotel, along the Golden Mile, will not be re-opening due to the unprecedented adverse impact of COVID – 19 on the hospitality industry. This is but one example of the profoundly devastating impact of this pandemic on the economy and jobs in the province.
On the positive side, we welcome the role that Tsogo Sun Hotels has played in the acquisition of the old Edward Hotel. As the KZN government, we are in regular discussion with the tourism sector partners to provide the necessary support as the sector gradually opens up.

We are going to intensify our efforts in assisting businesses with their applications for the UIF and the National Tourism Relief Fund. As government, we are putting in place many measures to cushion the blow on the economy and preserve livelihoods.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON SCHOOLS
Since schools re-opened, we have seen an increase in the number of confirmed positive cases involving teachers, leaners and support staff alike. Schools are a reflection of communities where they operate. As we see numbers of confirmed positive cases increase everyday across the country, we expect also to see some increase in reported positive cases in schools.
There has been an increase in the number of infected teachers, learners and other support staff in the past seven days. Last week we had 74 cases of which 57 were teachers and 13 learners. This week the reported number of infected people in schools has increased to 187 of which 139 are teachers and 37 are learners. Umgungundlovu District leads in terms of the number of infected teachers.
What is critical is how we manage the situation in schools where positive cases such that the risk of further spread is minimized. Obviously, no measures can replace strict adherence to Health protocols and regulations. Both the Departments of Health and Education have handled the cases extremely well.


We are encouraging people to allow the Department of Health to take a lead in managing COVID-19 cases even in schools. The health department will assess the situation in every school that has a positive case. This will include giving advice whether everyone need to be tested or testing will be limited to primary/close contacts. We want to emphasise once more that the safety of our learners, teachers and support staff is always a priority. One thing that we need to highlight is that there is no need to suspend classes for 14 days each time a positive case has been reported. Ordinarily, it should take the Department of Education not more than 3 days to decontaminate an affected school and thereafter allow teaching and learning to continue.

MASS GATHERINGS
It has also come to our attention that, despite the restrictions on mass gatherings still being in place, some people have started congregating in large numbers to participate in family feasts, parties, and religious gatherings, among others. This failure to take heed of the regulations could have serious consequences and will not be tolerated. Our law enforcement agencies will upscale efforts to monitor compliance with Level 3 regulations with effect from tomorrow.

NOT A TIME TO DISPAIR
Although indications are that COVID – 19 is intensifying its prevalence, now is not a time to despair or lose hope, but rather a time to double up our efforts and intensify our adherence to the safety precautions, such as:
• Wearing a face mask when venturing out in public;
• Practicing social distancing of at least 1.5 metres,
• Wash our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and
• Cover our mouths and noses with a flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing.
• It is in the hands of each and every one of us to curb the infection rate and move all of us closer to a COVID – free era.

MEN’S MONTH
The start of July signifies the start of Men’s Month, which places the focus squarely on the role and behavior of men in society. We will continue with our efforts to reduce and ultimately eradicate the scourge of Gender-Based Violence, which has continued to afflict us in recent weeks.