Scientists support decision to ease lockdown despite mortality projection

Gauteng police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela has been leading the province's efforts to make sure the lockdown regulations are adhered to in the communities. /ER Lomabrd / Gallo Images
Gauteng police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela has been leading the province's efforts to make sure the lockdown regulations are adhered to in the communities. /ER Lomabrd / Gallo Images

The continued easing of lockdown despite prediction of increased coronavirus-related deaths and infections in the country has received backing from scientists.

Science experts who predicted that over 40,000 people could die from coronavirus in SA by end of the year believe that decision on the lockdown cannot only be based on the question of health.

Dr Sheetal Silal of the Modelling and Simulation Hub yesterday said that although the issue of easing the lockdown posed a challenge as they predict an increase in deaths and cases, there were other factors the government had to consider, including the impact on economy and life in general.

Silal was speaking to Newzroom Afrika, following their modelling of the coronavirus.

She was part of the Covid-19 Modelling Consortium which presented data that informs how the government deals with the virus and have predicted that at least 1,4 million infections by November with over 40,000 deaths.

Silal was speaking as President Cyril Ramaphosa is on a consultation drive over further easing of the lockdown to alert level 3, further opening up economic activity in the country.

"It [lockdown] does present a conundrum. I think what we have to understand here is coming out of the lockdown is not just a question of health and of overcoming the epidemic," Dr Silal said.

"It is a social question and it's an economic question and these are all of the factors that need to be taken into account and so, the move to either come out of the lockdown or remain in a lockdown transition into levels, this is a very collaborative process where government has been and will be consulting with many departments and many of key decision makers and stakeholders to take this decision. It cannot be a question of health alone."

As it stands, 19,137 cases and 369 deaths have been confirmed in the country, but the experts predict a gradual spike in numbers towards end of the year.

The team also predicts that a large number of coronavirus patients will need to be taken into intensive care unit (ICU) across the country.

They said that the need for ICU will most probably be greater than the current capacity and have recommended that the government procures more.

Their short-term predictions suggest that there will be 40,000 active cases, just over 2,000 hospitalised patients, about 500 in ICU and just under 500 deaths by end of June.

"Peak in active cases is likely between early July and early August. This will be affected by post-lockdown measures. Considerable variation in timing and scale of peaks between provinces. Variation will be greater between districts and sub-districts," they said.

They predict that majority of the cases will be in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

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