Fourth Covid-19 wave threatens to upset South Africa’s summer, government warns

South Africa is likely to face a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases in November, says health minister Joe Phaahla.

In a media briefing on Friday (27 August), Phaahla said that this is problematic as South Africa’s third Covid-19 wave is continuing to behave in an unpredictable manner, and is notably different from the country’s first and second waves.

Phaahla said that the long tail of third-wave cases is a particular concern, as the country faces moving from one wave of cases straight into another over the summer.

“The third wave is dragging for longer. Sometimes it looks like there will be a steep downwards trend and then it rises again.”

In the absence of new variants, what this means is that many South Africans are not observing the prescribed precautions, he said.

“The risk of this is that by the time the fourth wave comes – which is predicted to come around sometime in November, possibly driven by a new variant – it may find us still at the tail end of the third wave, which will mean that our health facilities and our health workers would not have had much rest.

“This is something that is worrying and we urge all South Africans to observe the known protocols,” Phaahla said.

On Thursday (26 August), South Africa reported 12,771 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,734,973.

Deaths have reached 80,826 (+357), while recoveries have climbed to 2,485,108, leaving the country with a balance of 169,039 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 11,648,851 (+285,041).

At least 1.5 million doses of either the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines were administered over the past week, the minister said.

A total of 8.8 million South Africans have received at least one vaccination, with 5,450,000 fully vaccinated.

A long tail 

Phaahla said that South Africa’s third Covid-19 wave had shown an initial steep downward trend since 9 July, however since 13 August cases started to trend upwards.

This fluctuation can also be seen in individual provinces such as the Western Cape Cape, Northern  Cape, and the Free State especially, he said.

While the national case positivity rate for South Africa is around 19%, he said that the Western Cape and Northern Cape have a much higher positive rate at 27% and 30% respectively.

He added that Northern Cape’s cases have remained high over a prolonged period.

“A very worrying trend is that in both provinces there have been younger people between ages 10-19 years testing positive.

“While some clusters can be traced to school opening there are also indications of social activities such as partying without precautions.”

Phaahla said that government was now considering the possibility of booster shots as well as mandatory vaccines. “A suggestion has been made by various influential people in society that we should consider mandatory vaccination policy.

“We are discussing this at various forums and considering options. We have noted discussions taking place about a possible J&J booster. This matter has been referred to our Vaccines MAC to look at.”

Phaahla said that the government’s priority is to make sure that all adult South Africans who are willing get vaccinated first. “Only then can we consider other suggestions.”

The minister said the virus may still be a factor in the near future and the best solution is to achieve herd immunity through vaccination.

“It’s going to take some time and there’s going to be a number of waves but what we are told and what seems to be the route to go is that the more we cover in vaccinations, the less mutations and if there are less mutations and less viral loads of this Covid-19, then there will be less waves coming,” he said.

Read: Government looking at mandatory vaccines in South Africa: health minister

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Fourth Covid-19 wave threatens to upset South Africa’s summer, government warns