How lockdown could work if there’s a second wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa

The South African government will again implement higher levels of lockdown if a second wave of Covid-19 infections hit South Africa – but things will be handled differently this time around, experts say.

Speaking to Rapport, medical expert Professor Salim Abdool Karim said that if a second wave of infections hits South Africa in the same way it has hit European nations, tighter lockdown restrictions will be back – but this time, it will be on a local level.

He said that the government is currently setting up task teams to handle this type of lockdown, should it become necessary.

This would finally see the implementation of the ‘district model’ of lockdown that was announced by the health department in May 2020, when the virus was still building its presence in the country.

Under the model, the country is split into 52 different districts, with each being assessed on its infection level. At the time, districts that were seeing higher than five new infections per 100,000 population were considered Covid-19 hotspots, and were to face tighter restrictions.

However, despite the model being developed, it was never put into effect, with many businesses and provincial leaders arguing that it was unworkable due to the integrated nature of many operations.

For example, how would a company do business if their operations stretched across different districts? Or how would workers get to work if they have to travel across districts to do so? Every move to a different level lockdown has been implemented nationally, since.

According to Karim, the government is now better prepared to use the system. He told Rapport that the problem with district model before was that it was difficult to police.

To determine hotspot areas, the health department will look at more than just infection rates, but will also factor in other things, like the availability of beds, he said.

Advisory panel changes

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize this week moved to disband the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC)  that has been assisting in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Some members of the MAC on Covid-19 were advised by letter this week that the group is being reconfigured, Francois Venter of the University of the Witwatersrand said by text message on Saturday.

The disbanding follows Mkhize’s announcement on 14 September that he would reconstitute the committee, News24 reported, citing the letter. Others who’ve been informed of the change include Angelique Coetzee, the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, it said.

While many members of the committee were informed that their services on the panel have come to an end, Karim said he was not affected by this, and remains hard at work gathering data on a possible second wave.

The warnings of a second wave of infections come as South Africa continues to open up the economy under lockdown level 1, while several European nations are seeing a major spike in new cases – some with higher infection rates than during the first wave.

However, one trend that is prevalent among these countries is that despite the higher number of infections, the death rate is lower.

Karim said that this is because it is younger people who are being infected – the age groups where the virus is less deadly – and that governments have had time to better prepare their response to the infections.

Read: The lockdown saw a spike in food prices across South Africa – and some groceries are still more expensive than before

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How lockdown could work if there’s a second wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa