How dangerous will the Covid -19 third wave be?



Published Feb 11, 2021


CAPE TOWN - While talks of a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections in the country are happening, scientists say the severity of the third wave will depend on future Covid-19 variants.

Although there is no evidence that the 510Y.V2 variant found in South Africa is more deadly, studies show that the new variant is 50 percent more contagious, than earlier versions.

A report released by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) last month showed that the second wave of Covid has by far eclipsed the first, with almost 14,000 excess deaths in the first week of 2021 alone, and more than 16,000 in the second week. This is more than double the highest number of excess natural deaths (6,673) suffered at the end of July – the previous peak of the pandemic.

Leading vaccine specialist Professor Willem Hanekom told IOL it would be difficult to predict when the third wave will begin, but urged healthcare providers to start planning for it.

“Our second wave was much worse than the first wave and looking at some of the countries that have gone from the second wave into the third wave, it has been much worse than the previous waves. Whether that’s going to be the case here, I cannot predict that.

“Part of the reason why we had a worse second wave, than the first one is because of the 510Y.V2 variant which is more transmissible. At the moment we cannot say there will be other similar variants in the future,” said Hanekom.

According to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the third wave of the Covid-19 virus is anticipated to begin around June this year, and said that epidemiologists are hard at work studying the possible challenges that await.

“When we look at the virus’ dynamics and behaviour, we can anticipate that we are likely to see one and probably two waves in the course of this year. When we look at how it has behaved up until now, we can anticipate that the third wave is likely to occur at the early part of our winter, and then the fourth probably in our summer,” he said.

Meanwhile, during a media briefing held last week, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said there is a possibility that the third wave could be even more damaging than the previous two waves which have hit the country.

“What we have seen is that in most of the countries the second wave has come to be much heavier, fiercer and cost more lives. It is also likely that we might face a third wave.

’’There is no way of being able to prevent it (the third wave). Its impact will probably be more devastating,” he said.