A list of takeaways from Prof Salim Abdool Karim's informative presentation on Covid-19
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As South Africa entered its third week of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, experts have warned of the effects of the lockdown ending early, but also on the need for increased testing.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, one of several advisors to the Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, gave a wide-ranging presentation on Monday night which highlighted the country's trajectory with the virus and what we can expect next.
Here are a few takeaways from the presentation:
Lockdown has been effective
Karim acknowledged that South Africa's infection rate had not been where it was projected to be a few weeks ago. He said this could be attributed to the government's lockdown which began on March 26.
Karim said the rate of infection had been increasing in line with global trends before the lockdown, however as soon as the lockdown happened the numbers remained the same with minimal changes which were not expected.
Three stages of the infection
Karim had also presented scenarios of the infections that were expected for South Africa. The first wave was that of travellers abroad who came back to the country and had tested positive for the virus, the second wave was that of community or people who came into contact with the travellers and the third wave was community transmissions.
He said the community transmissions were not growing at a rate which was projected. The experts had expected these numbers to be higher. Karim also acknowledged that the country was dealing with the tail end of imported transmissions, especially since a travel ban was placed and now with a national lockdown in place.
South Africa cannot escape a "flood of infections"
Even with a slow increase in infections, Karim said the country cannot escape the worst of the epidemic. He said the lockdown was buying the country time to prepare and deal with confirmed cases, but that the flood of infections was unavoidable as there was no vaccine to treat the virus.
“Can SA escape the worst of this epidemic? Is the exponential spread avoidable? The answer is that it is very, very unlikely. Put simply: no, we cannot escape this epidemic,” he said.
“What we would hope for is that the number of new cases will steadily decline and will disappear and that's the end of the story. I'm sorry to tell you that's very unlikely. The more likely [scenario] is ... that we've managed to stem community transmission," he said.
Karim pointed to the inevitable ending of the lockdown as a point of concern, he said many people would be vulnerable from catching the virus.
"For once we end the lockdown, about 55 million people are vulnerable to this virus. As soon as the opportunity arises for this virus to spread, we are likely to see the exponential curve again,” said Abdool Karim.
Flu season was a concern and possible partial lockdown for the elderly
Karim said what also concerned the health department was that flu season was approaching and that would complicate the efforts to deal with the coronavirus. He said another concern was that the elderly would have to be protected and that partial voluntary lockdown for the elderly was an option that would need to be taken. Death rates around the world have shown that it has been largely elderly people that have died from complications with the virus.
“In particular, those above 70, even those above 60 or 65. We're really concerned with this thing about whether it's going to be possible to have some kind of partial lockdown," Karim said.
Testing is increasing
Karim said the number of tests being conducted had increased over the past couple of weeks. The total number of tests conducted stood at 83,663 as of Monday. The total number of Covid-19 fatalities stood at 27 by Monday and the number of infections in the country at 2,272.
The week ahead and national surveillance
Karim said now the government had to use up the time it has gained from the lockdown to increase testing and tracing contacts.
“It's an opportunity to get new treatments, new vaccines. And all of this needs time. Now, we are unlikely to get a treatment or a vaccine within the next few months — those things take years. And in our case we hope that maybe we'll get it in a year or maybe 18 months," he said.
Karim said all South Africans should continue adhering to lockdown regulations as the monitoring of increasing cases continues. He said one of the ways that will be used to guide the progress of infections was a surveillance day where samples would be taken from 5% of the population to guide the scenarios around the infection.
* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak visit IOL's #Coronavirus trend page
** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the government's 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or go to SA Coronavirus for more information.