New Covid wave already hitting parts of Gauteng: experts

With daily new infections of Covid-19 rising in South Africa, medical experts are calling for increased vigilance and adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing protocols to delay the third wave in the country.

After registering around, and even below, 1,000 to 1,500 daily new cases through most of March and April, local Covid-19 infections have started a definite upward trend.

“For the first time since mid-February, new cases rose by more than 2,000 per day for a few consecutive days last week,” said the Bureau for Economic Research on Monday. ” The case-positivity ratio is also moving higher, while some districts have seen double-digit increases in the number of active cases over the past two weeks.”

Whether this signals the start of the feared third wave remains to be seen, but, especially in a province like Gauteng, recent metrics are worrying and underscore the importance of South Africa’s vaccine drive for the general public that is set to kick off next week, it said.

Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said there is a notable upturn in the number of South Africa daily coronavirus cases, on a seven-day rolling average basis:

  • 8th of January: 16,955
  • 8th of February: 3,029
  • 8th of March: 1,107
  • 8th of April: 789
  • 8th of May: 1,711

This trend has been noted by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, which said that data coming from different parts of Gauteng show signs of the province already being in a new wave of infection.

Speaking to eNCA, professor Adrian Puren said that the so-called third wave is difficult to predict as all the different districts in South Africa have varying infection patterns and circumstances to account for.

In Gauteng, for example, the West Rand has shown little to no signs of increased infections, while Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni are at high risk, with cases increasing. Sedibeng, meanwhile, has already moved into another wave, he said.

“Each district needs to be looked at and managed appropriately. Hospitals needs to be ready – and part of that is vaccination.

“It’s critical that healthcare workers have access to vaccines, this will be critical as we approach the third wave,” professor Puren said.

Recent predictive modelling published by the NICD showed that Gauteng is at the highest risk of having a particularly devastating third wave, due to the higher concentration of working-age adults and people with co-morbidities in the province, and the lower estimates of seroprevalence – the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum.

Overall, the NICD predicts that the peak of the third wave will be lower than the second wave – except in Gauteng.

The NICD said that that the data does not predict when the third wave will hit, but rather what shape it will take and what will drive it.

In this regard, it said that seasonal factors will play a part, echoing views from medical experts who believe the third wave will likely hit around the end of May entering June, coinciding with the shift to winter.

Professor Puren said that it is imperative that South Africans maintain social distancing protocols, continue to wear masks, and reside in ventilated rooms and areas.

With the onset of winter, this will be difficult due to the cold, but he said that these will help prevent infection.

Variants

A major caveat to the NICD’s statistical modelling is that it does not factor in other Covid-19 variants, using the basis that the main form of the virus is the local  B.1.351 variant.

Should other variants come into play, it said, the peak of the third wave could be much higher than the second wave across South Africa. The report was published before the UK (B.1.1.7) and Indian (B.1.617.2) variants of the virus were discovered in the country.

On Sunday, the health department reported that the UK and Indian variants have been detected locally – in 11 and 4 cases, respectively. The UK variant is already at a community transmission level, while the Indian variant is still contained.

The BER said that this is a huge risk for South Africa.

“The picture in India remains extremely dire, with the country breaking unwanted global Covid-records for consecutive days last week. While some countries have closed borders to travellers from India, SA has so far remained hesitant to do so.

“Given India’s ties to global (sea fare) trade and the country’s predominant strain being highly infectious, there is a real risk of the strain also starting to affect the rest of the world,” it said.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said there is no need to panic over the variants, stressing that detecting new variants of the virus is inevitable and that appropriate action will be taken.

The minister warned that variants can develop at any time in any country. “We reiterate that there is no need for panic, as the fundamentals of the public health response (testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine) have not changed.”

“We are all deeply concerned about the threat of variants of concern and these reports demonstrate that the issue is complicated,” he said.

“Travel restrictions will need to be balanced against the scientific realities in order to protect the economy.”

These findings are being processed by the government and announcements pertaining to travel regulations will be made after all appropriate consultations have been undertaken by Cabinet.


Read: Mkhize warns over two Covid variants ‘of concern’ in South Africa

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New Covid wave already hitting parts of Gauteng: experts