Covid-19 data to show way forward on lockdown, says advisor

Professor Koleka Mlisana shares some insights on Covid-19 pandemic./Supplied
Professor Koleka Mlisana shares some insights on Covid-19 pandemic./Supplied

The remaining few days will be crucial in determining how the government approaches the systemic easing of the lockdown at the end of April.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he will today announce plans on the gradual reopening of the economy after five weeks of lockdown.

According to Professor Koleka Mlisana, the chairperson of laboratory testing committee of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory panel, the data being collected will determine how the partial lifting should be undertaken and how the country moves on post the lockdown.

"They (remaining days) are really critical. Firstly, to allow us the data that we need to make the decisions, because then from these we then can see where are the hotspots and then it's going to give us enough to actually say, 'Okay, here are the hotspots, here are the low risk areas' and therefore be able to say how [we] can manage [the lockdown]," said Mlisana.

"Even economically, what are the areas where people can still continue to work from home and be productive. Do we then say continue doing and we can actually say no anybody who is above 65 years old must remain at home? All those things will be determined by the numbers that we get in the next few days."

As the government is also looking into reopening schools, the remaining days would help them determine how safe pupils would be.

Mlisana said that the data they currently have was not enough to make a conclusive decision as the number of infected children was still low.

"So, by the time a decision is made we probably would have gathered enough information to see how the virus behaves," she said.

"Remember it's really a concern in the elders and it has not been noted to be of concern in the young. So, we really don't think it's going to be a big issue; obviously what is critical is how do we prevent the infection from getting into children, which is the same for adults as well."

Mlisana, who is also a manager at the National Health Laboratory Services, said they were expecting coronavirus to continue spreading post the lockdown.

She said this was mainly because people in various communities were not heeding the call to stay at home, but coupled with that was the approaching winter season which posed a new threat as they currently do not have any data to determine how the virus would behave when coupled with flu-like symptoms.

"We are still going to see high numbers, we know that for sure," she said.

"That's our concern right now [winter season] because remember this is a flu-like illness and we are getting into a flu season, so the concern is we don't know how the virus is going to behave when it's coupled with influenza virus.

"We need to see if we're going to see a lot more infections with Covid-19 for those who have got flu as well.

"So, which means we actually need to have studies that are going on so that people can look at the behaviour because now we've got a glimpse of how the infection happens without flu [but] is going to change [with flu]?

"Are we going to see more serious symptoms or less? We need to know that we are on the alert and collect as much data as we can, so we can learn from that," she said.

She said that they were also studying how the virus behaves in different seasons, whether it was likely to come back in the same form or a different one.

This, she said, would determine if we should be preparing for life with Covid-19.

"It's like saying do we ever prepare for life with influenza. Now we don't know if coronavirus is going to be seasonal.

"But, once people have been infected, they will develop antibodies. What we don't know is how long those antibodies are going to remain and how protective they are going to behave."

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