All of South Africa’s provinces have reported an uptick in the number of new infections in the past week, raising speculation that the country may head into another round of public gatherings\ and alcohol restrictions. File Image / African News Agency / ANA
All of South Africa’s provinces have reported an uptick in the number of new infections in the past week, raising speculation that the country may head into another round of public gatherings\ and alcohol restrictions. File Image / African News Agency / ANA

It’s official, we’re in a Covid-19 third wave. Should a family meeting be called?

By Lee Rondganger Time of article published May 24, 2021

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Durban – It’s official. South Africa is in the throes of a Covid-19 third wave after breaching the 4 000 new infections rate.

All of South Africa’s provinces have reported an uptick in the number of new infections in the past week, raising speculation that the country may head into another round of restrictions on public gatherings and alcohol.

Between Friday and Sunday, the country recorded 10 462 new infections with the largest spike occurring on Saturday when 4 236 new cases were reported, according to the national Department of Health.

Rajeev Maharaj, a mathematician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who has been tracking South Africa’s Covid-19 data, said the country was also on the brink of the 10% test positivity rate.

“There are certain metrics which are important to look at to get a better picture of the epidemic in the country, apart from the raw case numbers.

“I always look at the test positivity rate as the first indicator. The WHO (World Health Organization) has set a threshold of 5% or below, as an acceptable level for easing of restrictions. High test positivity rates, particularly, above 10%, indicates that we are not carrying out an adequate amount of testing; there is high community transmission at the moment, and there is likely a large amount of infections are going undetected in the community,” he said.

Asked about what steps could be taken to prevent the third wave, Maharaj said the current level 1 restrictions were not sufficient to contain the spread.

“However, I do not think that a hard lockdown will be justified at this point as the economic impacts will be devastating and the livelihoods of many people will be affected.

“We need to enforce the use of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) and all the other regulations and already in place, while adding other useful mitigation measures to curb transmission such as increasing curfew times, restricting the capacity of venues, etc.

“We should also be ramping up our community testing and not only waiting for people with symptoms to come forward to test ... The severity of the wave will all depend on the behaviour of people in response to an increase in cases, mitigation measures imposed by the government and immunity levels in the community from prior infection or vaccination,” he said.

Professor Francois Venter,am infectious diseases expert at Wits University, agreed that South Africa was in a third wave but said the extent of the third wave was difficult to tell as there was a delay in reporting

“There is quite a sustained increase across all the provinces, so it seems quite firmly like we are in the stages of a third wave. It doesn't seem to be as savage as the second wave, as the second wave hammered us,” he said.

“So I think the bottom line is we probably are in the grips of the third wave. Each one of the provinces in both the first and the second waves behaved differently. Some had much worse than others, some it was the same between the first and second wave, some it was much worse than the second wave. So it's going to be interesting to see how this develops,” he said.

Venter said that in order to stave off a sustained third wave, South Africans needed to limit indoor gatherings such as church services where more than 50 people gathered.

Asked about what South African could do to prevent a deadly third wave, Venter said there was no need for “weird lockdown rules”.

“What we need to have is a consistent risk mitigation strategy that stops the early wave from starting in the first place. And then where if people are forced to congregate indoors, is to get masks ...

“Controlling the Covid-19 numbers is very much like HIV where your personal behaviours do change your risk. There's no denying your big religious gatherings big political gatherings big social gatherings will make things worse so people do need to be conscious that they can protect themselves.

“In many many cases, that's difficult if you're in an informal settlement or in a home with 10 people. But for people who do have options where they could be having their social, family gathering, outdoors, where they could weather indoors, making sure that the windows open that there's adequate heating so the windows can remain open. Those are the kinds of situations where I think people should be conscious and can do to protect themselves while we waiting for the vaccines.”

Venter said that the government needed to roll out the vaccine faster as it was South Africa’s only hope.

“It's what will normalise our society; it can take a while but that really is what they need to be focusing on; everything else is to protect you until you can get the vaccine,” he said.

It comes as after Western Cape Department of Health's Dr Keith Cloete warned people to brace for more stringent restrictions in coming weeks.

He urged people to limit non-essential travel and to keep gathering to up to 20 people outdoors.

On the possibility of new restrictions, he said: “It’s a national competency to put these restrictions in place. The likelihood of them appearing is high because the number of cases are alarmingly increasing across the country.”

Amid the new Covid-19 numbers, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance has called for restrictions on alcohol sales and a complete ban on advertising in order to save lives.

“Livelihoods are important, but lives even more so – and acting now to restrict hours of trading and social gatherings fuelled by alcohol consumption – where social distancing is not adhered to and masks are not worn – will make a major difference and save lives. And it may help to avoid a crisis situation in which government decides that the only way out is to impose a complete ban on access to alcohol,” the association said.

The DA’s Dean Macpherson said they would reject attempts to to sneak in major liquor policy changes using the National State of Disaster.

“Any changes to legislation such as those proposed must only be done through a legislative process, not through the back door of an illogical and irrational ongoing State of Disaster... It has become far too easy for the government to target the liquor industry than to fix the collapsing health-care system,” he said.

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