Coronavirus ‘tipping point’ – South Africa’s lockdown is all we have to prevent more infections

South Africa’s new lockdown measures will be key to stopping the local spread of the coronavirus in South Africa, says Wits University Professor Bruce Mellado, who previously warned that without containment measures, over a million South Africans could have been infected within 40 days.

Speaking in an interview with eNCA, Mellado said that modelling of the spread of a virus in other countries showed that once it hit around 100 local transmissions (ie, not infections in those who travelled abroad), it would hit a tipping point and increase exponentially.

“It is not an exact number but it is around (100) where the number of infections indicates fast growth in the absence of containment measures. From this small number, you quickly reach a very high number all the way up to tens of thousands of cases in a matter of two weeks,” he said.

With president Cyril Ramaphosa announcing a 21-day lockdown from Thursday (26 March), Mellado said that transmissions should be reduced as seen in other countries.

“We know we have not contained the growth in the number of people affected around the world. Growth has been very fast – it’s been exponential,” he said.

“That’s why we listened to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s news with a certain degree of relief, given the current situation. It’s very difficult to conceive any other measure beyond the lockdown to curb the growth of the virus.”

However, he warned that the full extent of the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa is still not completely known – or to what level local transmissions have occurred.

“We’re still waiting for the latest data from NICD so we can scrutinise the cases, specifically how many were local transmissions. We suspect that number was growing quite fast,” he said.

Mellado said that with the lockdown in effect, however, the predictive model will be readjusted to be more in-line with other countries that have similar drastic containment measures, and as soon as data is made available from the NICD, it will be better able to track the possible slowing down of the spread of the virus.

In South Africa, the number of confirmed cases has increased dramatically in just eight days from 61 cases to 402 cases. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize previously warned that as much as 70% of the population could contract the illness over time.

“This number will continue to rise,” Ramaphosa warned. “Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands.”

Globally, infections are accelerating, having spread to nearly every country in the world.

“It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases,” The World Health Organisation said.

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Coronavirus ‘tipping point’ – South Africa’s lockdown is all we have to prevent more infections