Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has confirmed that the government is reconsidering a number of restrictions as the country looks at easing its lockdown.
“In previous statements relating to restrictions under the National State of Disaster, we committed to reviewing these periodically as we reassess the state of the South African epidemic and this is indeed what we have done,” he said.
Having observed evidence that suggests a sustained decline in coronavirus transmissions, Mkhize said that the Department of Health have considered easing restrictions in these areas:
- The evening curfew;
- The current limitations around the sale of alcohol;
- Limitations around religious gatherings;
- Certain travel restrictions.
Mkhize said that these recommendations have been made as part of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), which will make final recommendations to cabinet.
The presidency confirmed that president Cyril Ramaphosa will chair a virtual meeting on the President’s Coordinating Council on Tuesday, which will focus on a report from the NCCC on the country’s response to the pandemic.
“Whatever decisions are made, it is important to emphasise that the risk of spreading and contracting Covid-19 still remains and that non-pharmaceutical interventions remain important as we learn to co-exist with the coronavirus,” Mkhize said.
Mkhize said that the number of detected cases countrywide continues to decline and that since 22 August the country has reported under 3,000 cases a day. By comparison, at the height of the epidemic during the month of July, anything between 10,000 and 15,000 cases a day were being reported, he said.
“Supporting this decline is also a demonstrable decline in persons under investigation, general ward admissions, ICU admissions, deaths and excess deaths. Consistency across these indicators reassures us that indeed we are in the midst of a trough in the pandemic,” he said.
The health minister further cited data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) which is tracking coronavirus data in the country’s hospitals.
The NICD’s data shows a clear shift in the behaviour of the epidemic with downward trends in general ward and ICU admissions and deaths. In total 66,515 patients were studied with 4,314 currently admitted.
The discharge rate from hospital was 75% while the in-hospital case fatality ratio was 17.5%. The median age for admissions was between 50 and 59 and the median age for deaths was between 60 and 69.
At the height of the epidemic, these sample hospitals were reporting between 6,400 and 6,800 admissions per week.
With South Africa seeing its coronavirus surge receding, Mkhize said that this raises the question of the level of immunity that may already exist across the country.
He referred to the country’s ‘seroprevalence’ which is the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum. Initial seroprevalence studies from convenience samples have shown seroprevalence of between 29 and 40%, he said.
“Interestingly, the revised models currently predict that there are probably about 12 million South African in total (detected and undetected) infected with coronavirus – this translates to about 20% of the population.
“We are currently embarking on a national seroprevalence study which should take us closer to the actual seroprevalence of coronavirus antibodies and will give us a more accurate indication of our status of national immunity.
“Once the national study has been concluded we will communicate those results to the public.”