Since the implementation of the national lockdown on March 26, South Africa has managed to slow the number of Covid-19 infections, according to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
Before the lockdown, Karim said the number of infections were increasing in line with global trajectories but this changed dramatically once the lockdown was implemented.
Karim, a world-renowned HIV scientist and infectious diseases epidemiologist, made the observations during a presentation on Monday night. He was part of a panel who were participating in a public engagement with experts on the pandemic hosted by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Comparing SA's Covid-19 “line” with other countries like China and the United Kingdom, Karim said the data showed the epidemic trajectory of this country was unique.
There were three possible reasons for this, he said.
If South Africa was conducting fewer tests, or conducting testing mainly in the private sector, then a clear picture of the situation among the poorer sectors of the population was not being shown. The third possible reason, Karim said, was that the reduction could for some reason be genuine and a direct result of government's interventions.
During Karim's presentation he showed that the first scenario was unlikely as testing for Covid-19 has increased dramatically in recent weeks and that said National Health Laboratory Service has “sharply increased” its testing in “townships and the communities” across the country.
Karim also explained the three waves of infection experienced in the country. The first was from people who had travelled abroad and returned home with the coronavirus. The second wave is the people who interacted directly with the first group of infected patients and the third is local transmissions.
The travel ban which was implemented shortly after SA's first identified infections and the subsequent lockdown means that this first wave is now coming to an end, he said.
While it had been expected that the second wave, those people who were infected by coming into contact with the returning travellers, would spread the virus this was not the case and this wave was largely contained, Karim said.
He warned, however, that once the lockdown ended the infection rate is expected to spike, especially since patients only started showing symptoms of infection after 7 - 10 days, by which time they could have transmitted the coronavirus to everyone the came into contact with since being infected.