Professor Salim Abdool Karim
Professor Salim Abdool Karim

Prof Karim: We expect a rise in Covid-19 cases and outbreaks as SA moves to Level 3

By Se-Anne Rall Time of article published May 29, 2020

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Durban - As the country prepares to downgrade to alert Level 3 of the lockdown from Monday, June 1, medical experts have warned South Africans to expect an increase in Covid-19 cases and outbreaks. 

However, if residents continue to practice social distancing, sanitise their hands and frequently touched surfaces, and wear masks, the risk would be mitigated. 

On Friday, Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize and  members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, senior officials from the Department of Health and the leadership of health entities including South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, the National Health Laboratory Services and the National Institute For Communicable Diseases Of South Africa discussed the health interventions ahead of the country’s downgrade next week. 

Mkhize said the reality is that Covid-19 will be around for the next one or two years, at least. 

He added that residents needed to adjust to the "new normal". 

The minister noted 50% of the country's Covid-19-related deaths were recorded in just the last two weeks. 

"Now we need to look at what society will do," he said. 

Speaking during the webinar on Friday, Mkhize, as well as South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, unpacked the country's Covid-19 epidemic trends.

He said a panel of health experts working with government since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in SA was learning from what was going on in the Western Cape, which is now the epicentre of SA's outbreak. 

Karim said flattening the curve has started, but cautioned it needs to continue long term. 

"It gave government time to improve testing, boost the healthcare capacity, set up field hospitals, procure Personal Protective Equipment and prepare for Covid-19," he said. 

Karim said the idea of flattening the curve, without a vaccine, meant that everyone would be at risk with more people needing hospital care. 

"The reason for flattening the curve is to reduce the rate of new infections, that the peak is lowered to a level where hospitals can cope with Covid-19 patients. The idea is also to ensure that hospitals are coping and have better care techniques and fewer deaths," he said. 

Karim explained that it needs to be an ongoing process and does not mean that no new cases would be reported. 

"It cannot stop the epidemic nor does it eliminate the outbreaks from occurring," he said. 

Professor Karim noted that South Africa had a unique situation when compared to other countries around the world. He said the measures taken by government showed that early action was better. 

"It helped to slow community transmissions and provided more time to expand healthcare capacity as well as scale up on testing and prevention programmes," he said. 

He added that the epidemic in South Africa is less severe when compared to other countries. 

"As the lockdown comes to an end, we expect a rise in cases and outbreaks. We can mitigate the risk as we return to work by using combinations of the tools from the prevention toolbox. There is no room for complacency. We are expecting outbreaks. We need to identify the hotspots and intervene," he said. 

The team noted that the number of tests had increased drastically, with Gauteng undertaking the highest number of tests. 

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