FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker prepares specimen collection tubes at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-thru testing location in Houston, Texas, U.S., November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker prepares specimen collection tubes at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-thru testing location in Houston, Texas, U.S., November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

Experts warn that Black Friday, festive season could be super-spreaders of Covid-19 in SA

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Nov 28, 2020

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Its arrival had scared politicians and scientists alike and its real damage might only be seen in just over a week’s time.

Across South Africa shoppers flocked to malls and shops to take advantage of the discounts and deals offered by Black Friday.

Crowds, indoors and no following distances all make the perfect storm for a Covid-19 super-spreader event.

The fear is that this might accelerate Covid-19 infections at a time when transmission rates have been rising across the country.

“I mean, my guess is that we haven't had those real super- spreader events and I think this is a big one. Then throw in the holiday and so on. It is going to be a horror show in January, if they think December is party time,” said Professor Alex Welte of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University.

New Year’s Day celebrations in full swing in Durban this year. Similar crowds this coming January 1 could be disastrous in terms of Covid-19 spread. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA)

Earlier this week the premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, urged shoppers to buy online rather than head to the shops during Black Friday, so as to prevent the spread of the virus, which has been on the rise in the province.

Initial reports suggest that it has been a quieter Black Friday than in previous years because of Covid 19 fears and the poor economy.

On Thursday the health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize told journalists that the government would be looking at the possibility of introducing additional lockdown restrictions in the Eastern Cape so as to control the resurgence of Covid-19 in that province.

He said that a “package of interventions” could be introduced in hot spot areas like Nelson Mandela Bay.

But stopping the spread of the virus, said Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, had to be at a macro level.

“A localised approach is unlikely to work if you are allowing people to commute between areas," he said.

Madhi said that research had shown that in the US 80% of their Covid-19 infections had come from mass gatherings.

While South Africa has yet to see the so-called second wave or major resurgence of the virus, Welte believes the country is following a similar trend to Europe and the US.

"If you look at a lot of the European countries and the US, what they called their first wave was to a large extent in the major centres. And now if you look at what's happening in most of those countries … and we're not there yet. These countries have substantially higher case counts per day than they had in their first peak, but it’s much more disseminated, so it's not all in one or two urban centres,” he said.

South Africa too, he believes, is seeing the dissemination of the virus as it moves into other areas. Madhi believes we might see a resurgence of the virus or “second wave” in January or February.

And with a vaccine possibly at least six months away, protection comes down to choices.

“The single most important thing to avoid is mass gatherings, in particular indoors,” said Madhi.

The Saturday Star

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