SA likely to see highest Covid rise after holidays: Call to avoid big gatherings, rather than hard lockdown

Plett Rage (pictured here in a previous year) has been cancelled, but other festivals and private parties have gone ahead in the Western Cape.
Plett Rage (pictured here in a previous year) has been cancelled, but other festivals and private parties have gone ahead in the Western Cape.
Image: Shelley Christians

Medical experts have predicted that the highest rise in Covid-19 infections will be seen after the December holidays.

This comes after health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday announced that SA is now in its second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Critical-care professor at Wits University Guy Richards said the country was likely to have a slightly delayed peak during the festive season because of migration between provinces.

“We may see the biggest peak after the holidays, early January, but who knows. It’s very difficult to predict,” he said.

Hospitals begin to fill up again

Richards said the second wave would worsen the capacity problems in many hospitals, predominantly in the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and the Garden Route, where hospitals were filling up rapidly.

“We know that doctors who have been treating patients who contract the virus have been unable to find beds in hospitals. I don’t think areas like the Garden Route, that are small and don’t have the facilities, are ready.

“The wave is happening at a time when nurses and doctors have gone on leave and that decreases the number of beds available,” Richards said.

He is concerned that people will still not be compliant of Covid-19 protocols.

“I think people are tired of people of having to take precautions, especially the young people.”

Richards said he did not believe that strict lockdowns have worked.

“I think the restrictions ought to be on potential superspreader events. I have never liked the idea of people attending religious services. I think that is a major problem. I think parties, and certainly those Rage-type parties and any other party is a problem because young kids in particular don’t care about the potential of spreading the disease.”

Funerals were also a major problem, he said.

“It’s a problem because there will be spread when people are comforting each other.”

Richards said he was against the idea of closing beaches while churches were allowed to operate.

“If you close the beaches and you continue with church or religious services, it seems a bit silly to me. We need to clamp down on superspreader events.”

He said it would be a bad idea to have a strict lockdown again.

“We know that locking down the economy had a huge impact in SA on diseases other than Covid-19 and patients' ability to access treatment from clinics and hospitals.”

Outdoor gatherings preferable - with a mask

Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits University, said on Thursday that the resurgence was likely to be much more widespread by February.

The number of people infected probably wouldn’t have been much different than in the absence of the lockdown.
Prof Shabir Madhi

“I think what we are going to see over the next few weeks is the resurgence gaining momentum,” he told radio 702.

He suggested outdoor gatherings over the festive season but cautioned that face masks and social distancing were still important, even if small gatherings were attended outdoors.

“If we can try to avoid those sort of mass gatherings, and I’m talking of bars, shebeens, pubs, places of worship, the Rage parties ... if we can avoid those — and restrict those in fact — we will be in a much better space in terms of the timing of the resurgence as well as the magnitude of the resurgence. The key issue is to protect our health-care services from not becoming overwhelmed,” he said.

“The only thing that we have in our toolbox at this point in time is to restrict mass gatherings in poorly ventilated indoor areas, in fact any indoor areas. Beyond that, there is very little government can do right now.

“There is no way that we can go into a lockdown and going into higher levels of lockdown is not going to get rid of the virus, all it is going to do is delay the resurgence.

“I think that SA is a practical example which shows that in fact the number of people that were infected with the first wave, despite us going into a highly restrictive lockdown, what it really achieved was delaying the outbreak by about four to five weeks but the ... number of people infected probably wouldn’t have been much different than in the absence of the lockdown.”

Next peak may be worse

Chief medical specialist of rural health and dean of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's School of Nursing and Public Health Prof Mosa Moshabela said the second wave had come earlier than expected.

“I don’t think many of us expected matric rage to drive infections but they did in a way. It feels it [second wave] comes a little sooner than we expected. We expected to see it but later towards the end of December and around early January.

“We were thinking the migration patterns of the festive season as people wind down and go home and on holiday would be the main drivers, but clearly that will accelerate it further,” he said in an interview with SAFM.

While the new Covid-19 infections were said to have taken a place among young people, Moshabele said the real concern was the fact that at their homes, there were older people who had comorbidities and other risk factors.

He said the country was likely to see a higher peak than the first one.

He suggested a wider lockdown for the period of the festive season to limit the severity of the wave.

“Otherwise if we don’t, we are allowing it to take a course of its own.”


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