A combination of relaxed regulations around gatherings and the Easter holiday period could push South Africa’s third Covid-19 wave up on the calendar, says professor Alex van den Heever, chair of social security systems administration and management studies at Wits University.
Van den Heever told the Citizen that excess death data shows that there are already signs in the Free State and the Western Cape that surges may be on the way.
“It is not clear that government has hit on the most efficient configuration yet. The curfew was probably the most effective at curtailing high-risk super-spreading events,” he said. “However, large indoor religious gatherings represent a significant potential driver of transmissions over the Easter weekend next month,” he said.
These worries have been echoed by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who said that there are concerns over a third wave of Covid-19 post-Easter weekend (4 April).
“We are all concerned about the possibility of a third wave, or resurgence after Easter,” he said, adding that the virus will likely spread again as the country heads into winter.
Experts and officials had previously hoped that a third resurgence would only be seen in the country at the start of winter, around May or June, but mid-to-late April has also been flagged as a possible start.
Easter time is typically a period of family and religious gatherings, holiday breaks, and increased alcohol consumption – all of which have been closely associated with a rising number of Covid-19 cases.
Much like in 2020, economists at Nedbank have said that the rise of any additional Covid-19 waves, and associated restrictions, will have the greatest impact on South Africa’s economy in 2021.
“More positive developments on the distribution of the vaccines to a larger part of the population will boost confidence and willingness to spend,” the bank said in research note on Wednesday (17 MArch).
“However, a resurgence in infection rates could result in stricter lockdown measures that could limit the expected recovery rate, together with persistent concerns about job security.”
Preventing future waves of Covid-19 and the economically-damaging lockdowns that follow, will depend on government being more effective in its vaccine rollout strategy. Unfortunately, the rollout is going much slower than anticipated.
As of 17 March, only 168,413 people have been vaccinated.
Government had initially planned on inoculating 1.5 million people by the end of March, but a shortage of vaccines – and only administering about 6,200 of them per day – has made this target impossible.
At the current rate, it would take government 17 years to hit its target of 42 million people vaccinated.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has criticised the government for the slow rollout, saying that if it doesn’t pick up its game in rolling out vaccines, the country will remain in an “endless loop of lockdowns and Covid-19 infections – which will cost lives and shove millions into an inescapable cycle of poverty”.
On Wednesday South Africa reported 1,531 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total reported to 1,532,497.
Deaths have reached 51,634 (a daily increase of 74), while recoveries have climbed to 1,459,056, leaving the country with a balance of 21,807 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 168,413.
Sinovac Biotech Co may be able to supply South Africa with as many as five million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine within weeks of securing regulatory clearances, Bloomberg reported, citing Business Day.
The vaccines could be delivered two to three weeks after approval is granted, Hilton Klein, chief executive officer at Numolux Group Ltd, the local partner for Sinovac, was cited by the Johannesburg-based newspaper as saying.
A shortage of doses may result in South Africa, which has the most coronavirus infections on the continent, missing a target of inoculating as many as 1.5 million people by the end of March and 40 million by the end of the year, according to the government.