Siyabuya, the recently launched campaign designed to help South Africa’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, today called for continuous and clear communication on the country’s vaccine roll-out plan for fear that scarce information is fuelling dangerous behaviour.
Siyabuya also called on all South Africans to be extra careful and to maintain health protocols (masks, sanitising and physical distancing) protocols during the lengthy vaccine rollout period, which is likely to extend into 2022.
“Clear and regular communication is going to be essential if we are to build trust in the rollout process, and in the vaccines themselves,” said Melene Rossouw, a co-founder and the external lead of the Siyabuya movement.
The timetable that has been announced for phases 2 and 3 of the vaccine rollout means that most South Africans will have a long and perilous wait for their Covid-19 jabs.
Phase 1, the vaccination of healthcare workers, is not yet complete. Phase 2, a six-month programme to vaccinate the elderly and other high-risk categories and workers over 40, is due to start in May. The bulk of the population – everyone else under 60 – will only be vaccinated in Phase 3, starting in October.
“A third wave of infections is predicted, possibly before winter hits when infections are expected to spike yet again,” said Rossouw. “Frighteningly, that is also before most South Africans will have received their vaccination jabs. Even more frighteningly, complacency is creeping in among sections of the population, particularly young people who are tired of restrictions and want to gather, and party, and have fun and not bother about masks and distancing,” said Rossouw.
She observed that experience elsewhere in the world – evidenced, for example, in this Gallup poll in the United States (https://news.gallup.com/poll/343022/social-distancing-behaviors-drop-vaccinations-rise.aspx) – show a concerning return to risky behaviour as the pandemic grinds on. While behaviour in the United States might be driven by rising vaccination levels, we do not have the false luxury of complacency with less than 0.5% of the South African population having been vaccinated, she said.
Rossouw said the more relaxed behaviour seemed to suggest that people thought the country was over the worst, but she stressed that the monster that is this deadly virus still thrives among us.
It is also clear that complacency and risky behaviour thrive in an environment of information scarcity, inconsistency or ambiguity.
Siyabuya! is thus calling for:
- Clear, consistent and frequent communications from all stakeholders in the vaccine roll-out plan to help stem the tendency towards more relaxed behaviour by South Africans,
- A doubling-down on the “mask, sanitise, social distance” behaviour message, and;
- A firm reminder from all leaders that any relaxation of our Covid-19 safe behaviour will lead to further deaths, tighter restrictions, further economic disruptions and hardships and will delay our recovery from the great challenge which we face.
“We have seen from local and international experience that lax behaviour and super-spreader events – small or large gatherings that ensure wider distribution of the virus – result in more infections, more hospitalisations and more deaths,” she said.
“The message from Siyabuya is that the whole nation is going to be at risk until we reach population immunity – known as herd immunity – sometime in 2022. That means that for many more months we all have to do everything we can reduce the spread of the virus and the emergence of more deadly variants as infections multiply.
“Be careful. Be vigilant. Wear a mask, sanitise, keep a healthy distance from others and avoid gatherings if you can.
“And be patient, because it’s going to be a long and frustrating wait.”
Siyabuya is a new movement which aims to unite South Africans behind the belief that South Africa can emerge stronger from the economic devastation the pandemic has caused, and to unite in working towards achieving that goal.
Public health is going to an important component of economic recovery, Rossouw said. It is one of Siyabuya’s three focus areas. The other two are jobs and the economy, and food relief and food security.
The long wait for vaccines adds urgency to the Siyabuya! campaign, Rossouw said.
“Even though there has been some economic recovery, many millions remain unemployed and poverty and hunger are spreading. We need to create jobs wherever we can, and to support individuals and organisations who are bringing relief to the poor and the hungry.
“At the same time, we must ensure that the nation stays healthy over the many months it will take to complete the vaccine rollout,” Rossouw stated.