Namibia: Shangula Takes Wheel On Pandemic Directives

Namibian President Hage Geingob addressing a Covid-19 media briefing.
18 September 2020

Following the expiry of the Covid-19 state of emergency, health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula now has wide-ranging response powers to implement new directives as empowered by the Public Health Act and Public Environmental Health Act of 2015.

Justice minister Yvonne Dausab yesterday said the health minister was empowered by the two acts to issue written directives, make regulations to close places of public entertainment and recreational amusement, among others.

"The health minister, according to the Public Health Act and Public Environmental Health Act of 2015, can take a number of decisions in order to combat the further spread of Covid-19," she said at State House during a media briefing to announce the lifting of the state of emergency.

Reporting yesterday, Shangula said 88% of the N$727 million of the health ministry Covid-19 budget has been expended towards the recruitment of additional healthcare workers, procurement of medical supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals, the construction of isolation facilities, and renovation of existing health facilities as part of the pandemic response.

"These investments have significantly strengthened the capacities and preparedness to respond to the pandemic," he noted.

He assured government will continue to invest in infrastructure development, specifically the expansion of isolation facilities, as well as the procurement of medical equipment and other supplies.

During the six-month period, Shangula said the government exceeded its initial testing target of 25 000 people by more than 200% at the end of the state of emergency.

To date, Namibia conducted a cumulative 84 688 first-time tests.

"During the response, we have tested beyond the standard case definition so as to reach more at-risk populations as warranted and we have increased data integrity in our efforts to establish community transmissions. Namibia's testing coverage ratio is currently 32 per 1 000 people. South Africa has tested 61 per 1 000, the UK has tested 1.09 per 1 000 and Italy has tested 0.91 per 1 000," he maintained.

He stated the policy decision to quarantine and test all arrivals twice during the quarantine period was effective, as 72% of all cases diagnosed since 20 May 2020 were persons who were placed in quarantine facilities.

By the end of the state of emergency, the ministry had quarantined a total of 13 010 people at government. He stressed the quarantine strategy has materially mitigated the spread of disease into the communities, urging all in quarantine to continue complying with regulations.

As at yesterday, he said, Namibia has managed to contain the basic reproductive ratio, which is the number of secondary infections arising from a single individual who had tested positive, to less than one.

He explained this key indicator means that currently, in the majority of cases, one Covid-19 positive person is not transmitting the virus to more than one other person.

In terms of weddings and funerals attendance, Shangula said the status quo remains.

Under this 'new normal', where Namibians must learn to live with the virus in their daily lives, Shangula emphasised the responsibility for Covid-19 control will, henceforth, be shifted from government to individuals, families and communities.

"I put it on record our greatest appreciation for the cooperation and support from the Namibian citizens. Let us move with the same spirit in the 'new normal'."

- anakale@nepc.com.na

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