SA's Covid-19 infection plateau is unprecedented: ministerial adviser
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Cape Town - The manner in which South Africa's rate of Covid-19 infection has slowed has not been seen anywhere else in the world, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a special advisor to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, said on Monday.
"We now know that we have a different trajectory than we have seen anywhere else in the world," Karim told a media briefing, where he attributed the decline in the exponential increase in cases to rapid interventions by the government.
Karim said South Africa had been braced for a rapid exponential increase in Covid-19 infections, once the disease arrived in the country in March with citizens who had travelled abroad, and this was the case in the first fortnight after the first case was confirmed.
During this period, infections followed the same, predictable trajectory evidenced in the United Kingdom and other countries now battling severe outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
However, on March 26, the day before a strict national lockdown came into effect, the average number of new daily infections slowed to 76. In the second week of the lockdown, the average daily increase dropped to 67 new infections.
The government has defined the slowdown as a tenfold drop in the infection rate once the lockdown was implemented.
Karim said this picture defied the predictions on the pandemic for which government had braced, once the first wave of infections in travellers, and the second wave of people infected through contact with them, had ceded to a third wave of that had government had braced for, with a third wave of community infection spreading like wildfire.
"We are just not seeing that community level transmission at this point. It is there but it is not spreading in that way that we expected," he said.
"It didn't bridge to widespread community transmission. We simply did not see that exponential increase."
Karim said there was a possibility that the picture that was emerging could be attributed to inadequate testing but this was unlikely given the concerted increase in screening and testing for symptoms and infections. By Monday, the total number of tests conducted stood at 83,663.
"The more likely scenario is that what we have managed to do, is stem community transmission," Karim said.
But he cautioned that lifting or easing the lockdown, which has been extended until the end of April, could see the trajectory turn and the exponential increase the state had feared, materialise.
"Once we end the lockdown, and we are going to have to end it at some point, we have 57 million people [and] we have no immunity, we have no vaccine, we have no treatment," he said.
In terms of epidemiological modelling, the point at which restrictions could be eased, would be an average daily increase in infections of 44 new cases.
Karim said the special attention had to be paid to the greater Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini areas, where there was a risk of a rapid upswing in community transmission, and to protect the country's elderly citizens, who were at the greatest risk, along with those whose immune systems have been compromised by HIV and tuberculosis.
He mooted the possibility of a selective form of lockdown that would see the elderly remained confined, possibly in voluntary fashion, until September.
The total number of Covid-19 fatalities stood at 27 by Monday and the number of infections in the country at 2,272.