Easing lockdown just before Easter could lead to earlier third wave, says expert

SA is likely to see the resurgence of Covid-19 infections towards May, according to Wits University professor of vaccinology Prof Shabir Madhi

01 March 2021 - 22:09
By Belinda Pheto
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has asked South Africans to not let their guard down as the lockdown restrictions have been eased.
Image: Esa Alexander Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has asked South Africans to not let their guard down as the lockdown restrictions have been eased.

SA is likely to see the resurgence of Covid-19 infections towards May.

This is according to Prof Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits University, who was speaking on Monday during a leadership dialogue under the theme “Covid-19 vaccines: challenges and opportunities”, which was hosted by the Wits Business School.

Madhi said the easing of regulations just before the Easter season could lead to the third wave arriving sooner than expected.

“If we allow mass gatherings towards Easter, we might see a resurgence at the beginning of May. Predictions were that we might see it about June as we head into winter,” he said.

Madhi added that the notion that the country would be able to achieve herd immunity through vaccination this year would not materialise, but that vaccines would minimise severe disease and deaths.

He said the immediate focus for 2021 should be centred on the vaccination of high-risk groups, which itself will allow the country to return to some normality.

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“Yes, Covid is likely to be with us for a long time, but the main issue is whether we can protect against severe disease and death — which even the current generation of vaccines is likely to achieve to a great extent,” he said.

Speaking during the same event, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the lessons from last year were that there was a need to build a resilient health system across SA.

“The response to any pandemic will depend on how well the system was functioning,” he said.

Mkhize said the other lesson was the need for bold, united leadership from all sectors to carry the same message. “The new variant that was found in SA was unknown, but it also spread to other countries and we started to research how frequently the variant will be changing,” Mkhize said.

He said new variants will always be popping up in other areas and said they are discussing with vaccine manufacturers to look at what can be done with the current vaccines so that they can be effective with future variants. He said more announcements in this regard would be made in the next few days.

He said he was also concerned about the possibility of a third resurgence after Easter because people might feel that things are more relaxed because of the eased restrictions.

“We must insist that people must continue to use containment measures by the use of mask [and] sanitation, and do not relax because we are going to run into a problem with the viral infection, more so as we go into winter,” he said.

On questions on why the current vaccine rollout is being done as a phase 3b trial, Mkhize said the vaccines that were now being used were those that were earmarked for trial purposes. He, however, emphasised that the vaccines were tested and approved.

“The reality is that we needed to start the vaccination and we needed to find where the vaccines were that were available. And the vaccines that were available were those in fact initially for trial — and they were not being used, so we went to engage the manufacturer on that,” he said.

He said the government was hoping to receive 1.1 million  vaccines by the end of March, some from Pfizer and others from Johnson & Johnson.

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