The resurgence of Covid cases in South Africa and signs of a possible fifth wave of infections will test South Africa’s government and the country’s new pandemic restrictions, says Business Leadership South Africa chief executive Busi Mavuso.
Writing in her weekly open letter, Mavuso noted South Africa is currently in 30 day transition period from the state of disaster Covid regulations that were ended on 5 April before new National Health Act regulations became the way of managing responses to the pandemic.
“This fifth wave will be the first test of these regulations, and I hope that they will prove more effective than their predecessors in balancing the need to restrict the transmission of the virus with the need to have minimal disruption of the economy and our lives,” she said.
“There is some risk here – the previous waves saw many variations of restrictions as we tried as a country to calibrate our response. There were clear missteps that we have learned from. That learning must be fully absorbed into how we use the new regulations to deal with the pandemic.”
Another key differentiator is that the country’s background immunity levels have changed dramatically as more people have been vaccinated.
“Business can play an important role in this effort through vaccine mandates, though clear policy from the government on this would help. But apart from vaccines, the high rate of previous infections affords further levels of protection. Estimates for the prevalence of antibodies in the population range from 56% for those under 12 having never been vaccinated to 93% of those over 50 who have been vaccinated.
“This high level of protection has been credited with the relatively low impact of the omicron wave in terms of deaths and hospitalisations. So in determining what measures we need to fight the new wave, we can assume it will be less impactful than earlier waves and that, therefore we can avoid measures that damage our fragile economic recovery.”
Mavuso added that the previous waves have proven that the country can find the best balance in managing the pandemic and the economy if there is full consultation so that the consequences of regulations can be understood and planned for. “I look forward to engaging our public sector counterparts to find that balance.”
Further restrictions unlikely
While weekly Covid-19 cases have fallen in recent weeks, the risk of further Covid-19 waves persists, Standard Bank said in a shareholder note on Monday (25 April).
Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University Shabir Madhi said that there had been a clear increase in infections in South Africa over the last week, with the country now on the cusp of resurgence.
However, he noted that there had been a ‘massive decoupling of infections and severe disease materialising’, with the country much better positioned than previous waves due to its higher immunity levels.
He added that a further tightening of lockdown restrictions would likely be unnecessary as doing so has repeatedly failed in the past.
South Africa on cusp of resurgence, after the high infection rate with Omicron- albeit massive decoupling of infections and severe disease materialising. Current resurgence likely due to sub-lineage of Omicron- BA4. What can we expect, now that >80% population have some immunity
— Shabir Madhi (@ShabirMadh) April 23, 2022
Health minister Joe Phaahla said his department is tracking the ‘worrying’ increase in Covid-19 cases in recent days and will present its findings to the public once it has more information.
Presenting his department’s annual report to parliament on Friday (22 April), Phaahla said that the government is still hopeful that these cases will not increase much higher but stressed that the situation is actively being monitored.
He added that more time was needed to determine the exact trend in infections. Still, if cases continue to increase into the winter months, it will hopefully not be disruptive enough to divert the government from its current programmes.
On Sunday (24 April), 19,325 tests were conducted with 3,222 new cases – representing a 16.7% positivity rate. Gauteng leads the increase with 1,727 new cases, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 818 new cases.