South Africa has officially exited its third wave of coronavirus infections, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said in a statement on Sunday (26 September).
The institute said that the national seven-day moving average of daily case numbers, positivity rate, and testing rates continue to decrease, with sustained decreases seen in all provinces.
“Nationally, we have exited the third wave according to the current definition,” it said.
On Sunday, 967 new Covid-19 cases were reported, which brings the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 2,896,943. This represents a 5% positivity rate.
Senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, said that new infections in South Africa are now at 4 per 100,000 people, which is 11% of what was seen during the peak of the third wave a few weeks ago.
New cases over the last week have averaged around 2,000 per day – a 40% decline in cases from the week before. Hospitalisations have also dropped by 32%, and deaths decreased by 35%, week-on-week.
“Nationally, all the measures and metrics are on a sustained decline, which is quite promising,” he said. “The leading indicators have declined sufficiently below the threshold to indicate that, as a country, we have now formally exited the third wave.”
Level 1 lockdown
The government is expected to announce South Africa’s updated lockdown regulations in the coming weeks, after moving to an adjusted level 2 lockdown on 13 September.
Professional services firm PwC said that it expects a move to level 1 lockdown from the start of October.
“The severity of the elongated mid-year wave, and the accompanying strictness of associated lockdowns, is a key driver behind the nature of the economic recovery, alongside the impact of electricity load-shedding,” the group said.
“All our scenarios take into account a likely fourth wave of infections – with varying severity, depending on the scenario – during the summer holidays.”
Health minister Joe Phaahla said last week that the government is considering the further easing of lockdown restrictions. Some of the eased restrictions could include:
- An 00h00 evening curfew;
- Alcohol would be allowed to be sold for off-site consumption on a Saturday;
- More leisure activities will be allowed to reopen.
However, despite the more positive outlook, Phaahla and other health experts have warned that a fourth wave could be on the horizon – particularly with the coming elections in November, and higher mobility and larger gatherings over the end-of-year holiday period.
Wits University vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi told the Sunday Times that the campaigning period ahead of 1 November’s local elections could cause numerous superspreader events.
Madhi said campaigning will be “the riskiest period with regard to possible superspreader events, particularly if electioneering is allowed to take place in poorly ventilated indoor places.”
This is likely to be the case irrespective of the number of people who are allowed into these places. Increased community immunity and rollout of vaccines could lessen the blow of these superspreader events to a degree, he said.