The coronavirus pandemic could claim as many as 40,000 lives when it reaches its peak in South Africa later this year, new modelling data shows.
The data was presented by a team of scientific experts and the Department of Health in a closed media briefing on Tuesday evening (19 May).
Government has typically not shared its modelling data with the public or media over fears that it could be misconstrued and cause panic.
As such, both the minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize and his team of experts noted that the data they were presenting is not final and could change depending on the country’s response as well as new data that becomes available.
The key findings from the briefing are outlined below.
Dr Mkhize said that there has been a lack of uniformity in the spread of the virus across the country, with a few districts accounting for the majority of the country’s cases.
He noted that while cases in the country initially increased sharply, they have now stabilised, and his team in now focusing on identifying and ‘intervening’ in hotspots around the country.
The department identified the following top 25 hotspots (May average):
|Province||District||Active cases||Active cases per 100,000 population|
|Western Cape||Citry of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality||2 199||52.59|
|KwaZulu Natal||Lamba District Municipality||135||18.85|
|Eastern Cape||Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality||216||16.39|
|Western Cape||Cape Winelands District Municipality||150||16.12|
|Eastern Cape||Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality||98||11.31|
|KwaZulu Natal||eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality||419||11.03|
|Gauteng||Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality||102||10.23|
|Gauteng||City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality||296||8.22|
|Eastern Cape||Chris Hani District Municipality||66||8.05|
|Western Cape||Garden Route District Municipality||43||6.83|
|Western Cape||Overberg District Municipality||13||4.32|
|Gauteng||City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality||122||4.18|
|KwaZulu Natal||uMgungundlovu District Municipality||34||2.90|
|Eastern Cape||Oliver Tambo District Municipality||39||2.62|
|Free State||Manguang Metropolitan Municipality||20||2.51|
|Western Cape||West Coast District Municipality||11||2.26|
|Northern Cape||Frances Baard District Municipality||7||1.95|
|Eastern Cape||Sarah Baartman District Municipality||10||1.90|
|Gauteng||West Rand District Municipality||16||1.85|
|KwaZulu Natal||Umkhanyakude District Municipality||13||1.79|
|KwaZulu Natal||Uthukele District Municipality||13||1.69|
|Eastern Cape||Alfred Nzo District Municipality||11||1.30|
|Mpumalanga||Gert Sibande District Municipality||15||1.20|
|KwaZulu Natal||Ugu District Municipality||9||1.14|
|Eastern Cape||Joe Gqabi District Municipality||4||1.07|
Dr Mkhize warned that the rate of new coronavirus infections in South Africa has to slow before the country can lift a nationwide lockdown in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.
Some of the key criteria required include evidence that the Covid-19 transmission is controlled, that sufficient health capacities are in place and that outbreak risks are minimised.
Dr Sheetal Silal, Head of the Modelling and Simulation Hub Africa (MASHA) at UCT, said that South Africa is facing two scenarios as it moves down to the level 3 lockdown in June.
In an optimistic scenario, the original level 5 lockdown helped reduce transmissibility by 60%, while the level 4 lockdown helped reduce transmissibility by 35%.
Once the country to moves a level 3 lockdown level in June, social distancing measures will help reduce transmissibility by 20%.
However, Silal said that in a more pessimistic scenario the social distancing measures could only reduce transmissibility by 10%.
There will be a peak in active cases in early July under the pessimistic scenario, or a peak in early August under the optimistic scenario.
Dr Silal that short-term projections are updated on a weekly basis and were made and the start of May.
She said that by the end of May, their modelling projects 30,000 detected cases across the country. However, she noted that this could vary widely and could be as low as 18,710 cases or as high as 54,540.
She explained that this discrepancy is due to the difference in a number of tests conducted and the strategy used.
The projected deaths in the country is expected to reach 475 – but once again Dr Silal that this was highly dependent on a number of factors.
Dr Silal added that the regional differences seen in the Western Cape – which currently accounts for over 60% of cases – will begin to reduce as fewer ‘cluster outbreaks’ are seen.
Dr Silal that long-term projections are based on average behaviour across the provinces, but added that the uncertainty surrounding the data is particularly notable when looking further ahead.
“We are in the middle of May right now so Covid-19 has only been around in the world for four and a half months.
“Here we are trying to make projections on the entire span of the epidemic for the next six to eight months, so there is considerable uncertainty.”
Dr Silal that what can be seen from a modelling perspective is that the lockdown has flattened the curve and push the ‘peak’ out later into the year.
Looking at cumulative deaths, Dr Silal said that in an optimistic scenario there will be just over 40,000 deaths by November. She notes that could rise to between 45,000 and 48,000 deaths in a pessimistic scenario.
You can watch a truncated portion of the presentation below: