3 lockdown scenarios for South Africa – including fourth wave restrictions over Christmas

Professional services firm PwC has published its latest economic outlook for South Africa, including forecast scenarios for the country’s lockdown levels and their likely impact on the economy.

The group’s economic scenarios for the remainder of 2021 and 2022 are strongly influenced by different perspectives about the severity of the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.

While PwC has largely been positive about the easing of lockdown restrictions and the impact of a fourth Covid-19 wave in recent months, its downside scenarios have always made room for unexpected developments that shift the Covid-19 situation onto a negative path.

“Over the past several months, the key risk in this regard has been the decline in vaccine rates — falling to an average of less than 100,000 per day during the last week of November. However, a new threat in the form of the Omicron variant of the virus was announced on 25 November,” it said.

President Ramaphosa announced on 28 November that South Africa would remain at lockdown level 1 for now as the government looks at increasing the vaccination rate to combat the fourth wave of infections.

However, he also warned that managing the pandemic in this way — and limiting disruptions to the economy — is not sustainable if South Africans do not adhere to basic health precautions.

“While the government is hesitant to implement tighter lockdown restrictions during the holidays, our model assumes stricter measures during the second half of December and into January to combat rising hospital admissions,” PwC said.

The group’s estimates indicate it will take another five months before 70% of the adult population is fully vaccinated. This period could be shorter if the current panic around the Omicron variant inspires more people to get their first and/or second doses, it said.

“It remains to be seen what the outcome will be of work by the president’s newly-established task team investigating mandatory vaccination for specific activities and locations. Our calculations do not currently take into account any mandatory intervention by this task team.”

Upside scenario

  • Level 1 lockdown to continue for the rest of the year, before moving to level 2 in January.
  • No significant increase in infections is seen, and the country moves back to a level 1 lockdown in February and March.
  • By April 2022, lockdown restrictions are largely lifted, with some specific exceptions, such as wearing masks in public places.

Baseline scenario

  • Level 1 lockdown to continue for the first half of December, moving to a level 2 lockdown in mid-December.
  • An increase in infections prompts a move to an adjusted level 3 lockdown in the first half of January, before moving back to a level 2 lockdown in the latter part of the month.
  • Level 1 lockdown restrictions remain in place for the first half of 2022, before another surge of infections lead to higher lockdown levels in July and August.
  • By November 2022, lockdown restrictions are largely lifted, with some specific exceptions, such as wearing masks in public places.

Downside scenario

  • Level 1 lockdown to continue for the first half of December, moving to an adjusted level 3 lockdown in mid-December.
  • This adjusted level 3 lockdown remains in place until the end of January 2022, with a level 2 lockdown introduced in early February.
  • Level 1 lockdown restrictions remain in place for the first half of 2022, before another surge of infections lead to higher lockdown levels in July and August.
  • The country keeps lockdown restrictions in place for the entirety of 2022.

Separate modelling by financial services company Discovery shows that South Africa is likely to see a peak in its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in early 2022.

In a media briefing on Tuesday (30 November), Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore said that the recently discovered Omicron variant would likely drive the wave.

“A medium scenario assumes about 35% of the population is vaccinated by the end of 2021, and that vaccination rates plateau from there. In this case, between June 2021 and June 2022  – taking the third and fourth waves into account – South Africa experiences a further 16,000 excess deaths because of the pandemic,” he said.

By comparison, Discovery’s modelling shows that in the total absence of Covid-19 vaccines, there would be a further 55,000 deaths over this time frame, showing the potentially significant toll of the pandemic without vaccination.

“There are indications that the looming fourth wave will be driven by the newly identified Omicron variant of concern.

“While there is limited data around this variant at present, we do know that it exhibits extensive mutations in the spike protein, alluding to its potentially increased transmissibility. Vaccination remains key to mitigating against severe illness and death in this regard,” he said.


Read: South Africa’s Aspen to make its own-brand Covid-19 vaccine

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3 lockdown scenarios for South Africa – including fourth wave restrictions over Christmas