New Covid-19 infections just 'tip of iceberg', warn health experts

Health experts have warned that the new Covid-19 infections are just the tip of the iceberg as testing is not done widely.
Health experts have warned that the new Covid-19 infections are just the tip of the iceberg as testing is not done widely.
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Health experts have warned that SA will experience high levels of Covid-19 infections if people continue to ignore safety protocols.

“With the new variant and the festive season, we anticipate that there will be high levels of transmission unless we change our behaviour and adopt non-pharmaceutical interventions of mask wearing and social distancing because that is the only way we will break this rise in infections,” said health department director-general Dr Anban Pillay.

He anticipated that Covid-19 cases would shoot up to 20,000 (over a 24-hour cycle) if behaviour did not change.

SA recorded more than 14,000 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, the highest single-day increase in cases. The previous high of 13,944 cases was recorded on July 24.

Pillay said the Covid-19 variant detected in SA was easily transmitted.

“It's important to understand that 14,000 is a smaller number than those who are carrying the virus but do not test.”

He said the government did not want to criminalise normal behaviour.

“We are trying to make people understand the consequences of this behaviour. We are hoping young people will understand that if they are infected they might infect their parents,” said Pillay.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the new variant was responsible for the rapid resurgence of the virus.

“SA has a variant that seems to be spreading very fast.”

He said not only did SA have more than 14,000 infections in the last 24 hours, but it had a positivity rate of 26% which meant that with every fourth test done, one person was positive.

“What we are seeing in SA is a tip of the iceberg because we are not testing widely.

“The second wave came too early. What is worrying me the most is a lot of our hospitals have used almost every ICU bed they have. That is a problem not only for Covid patients but for normal people who might need the beds at this time of the year.”

Both experts encouraged the public to limit social interaction to curb the spread of the virus.

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