South Africa ‘on the brink’ of a fifth Covid wave – but lockdown unlikely: economists

Economists from the Bureau of Economic Research say that South Africa is on the brink of a fifth wave of Covid-19, but said chances of lockdown returning are low.

Citing data released by health minister Joe Phaahla on Friday (29 April), the BER noted that South Africa has recorded the highest number of daily new Covid-19 cases since the start of the year.

Phaahla noted daily infections were recorded at 6,372, up from 4,146 the day before. The BER said that the country would need to see new cases exceed 6,237 per day for seven days for a new wave to be officially declared.

“Nonetheless, the 7-day moving average of new cases, at 4,231, is 120% higher than a week ago with Gauteng recording by far the most new cases, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape,” the BER said.

“Moreover, the 7-day moving average in the test positivity rate is also up sharply at 18.3%.”

Phaahla, noted in his Friday briefing that the spike in infections could be due to Easter and other holidays. Notably, the minister said that it is not yet clear if the fifth wave was starting – but he warned that it could hit sooner than initially projected.

“It is unclear if we are in the fifth wave, but we are on the brink of one,” the BER said.

The silver lining in the data is that, in contrast to the Beta and Delta waves, but like the original Omicron variant, new hospitalisations and deaths remain comparatively low. This comes with the caveat that there is typically a delay between infections and hospitalisations.

The group also warned that health officials also expect a more aggressive seasonal flu virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which could have a detrimental effect on the healthcare system.

“While this is something to monitor, as things stand, the likelihood of a return to the strict, or even stricter, lockdowns measures is low. What may transpire is that individuals could
voluntary refrain from gatherings or outings should they feel ill or consider the risk of becoming infected and ill to be too high,” the BER said.

South Africa ended the national state of disaster relating to the Covid crisis on 5 April 2022, more than two years after it was declared. Many of the regulations governing the country’s response to the pandemic – including the various lockdown stages – were tied to the Disaster Management Act.

New regulations, under various departments but mainly the Health Act, have been drafted to take over the management of Covid-19. These are expected to be finalised by 5 May.


Read: South Africa entering fifth Covid wave earlier than expected: health minister

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South Africa ‘on the brink’ of a fifth Covid wave – but lockdown unlikely: economists