Covid-19 third wave warning for South Africa – what to expect

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has released its latest Covid-19 modeling report, examining how the spread of the virus could accelerate in the coming months, causing a third wave of infections locally.

According to the NICD, the purpose of the report is to help planners and decision-makers in government – as well as the general public – track the onset of Wave 3, as well as provide planning support.

The NICD said the data doesn’t predict when the third wave will hit, but rather what shape it will take and what will drive it. In this regard, he said seasonal factors will play a role, echoing opinions of medical experts who believe the third wave will likely hit towards the end of May from June, coinciding with the switch to winter.

This will be exacerbated by changes in behavior among the population – complacent after the last wave – as well as the ongoing viral mutation and waning immunity from the last two waves of infection, he said.

Modeling data shows that if new variants of the Covid-19 virus are kept at bay, the third wave of Covid-19 will likely peak lower than the second wave – while hospital admissions are also expected to be lower .

However, if a new, highly transmissible variant enters the picture, the peak could be the same as the second wave, if not worse. As always, to keep infections and hospital admissions low, individuals must adhere to restrictions.

Form of the third wave

The shape of South Africa‘s third wave depends on various factors, but largely depends on the response of government and individuals, the NICD said. A quick and strong response in the modeling shows a lower peak, with fewer deaths. A slow and weak response has the opposite effect.

In all scenarios, in the absence of a new variant, the NICD expects the peak of the third wave to be lower than that of the second wave.

Younger age groups are expected to have fewer admissions than in Wave 2, while provincial projections show substantial variation in Wave 3 size between provinces, reflecting the different distributions. age and prevalence of comorbidities.

Wave 3 is expected to hit Gauteng hardest in all scenarios, due to the higher concentration of working-age adults and people with co-morbidities in the province, and lower estimates of seroprevalence – the level of ‘a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum.

“In all provinces, the time between the initial increase in transmission and the peak is on average 2 to 3 months. It should be noted, however, that these results are subject to substantial uncertainty due to the incompleteness of seroprevalence and other underlying data, and the unknown future behavior of the population, ”said the NICD.


Variants and vaccination

Notably, the report has two caveats: the data does not take into account the government’s vaccination rollout and assumes that only the local 501Y.V2 of the variant is at stake.

The late roll-out of vaccination in South Africa resumed at the end of April, with only 290,000 health workers vaccinated under the Sisonke program at the time. To date, 318,000 people have been vaccinated and the government has set a target of reaching 500,000 by mid-May.

Phase 2 of the deployment is expected to begin on May 17, where essential workers and vulnerable people – including the elderly and people with co-morbidities – will be allowed to register for the vaccine.

To meet the government’s stated goals of 16.5 million people covered by October, it needs to immunize more than 100,000 people a day. Under the Sisonke program, he managed around 6,000. This is in part due to the low availability of vaccines – a problem that will need to be addressed by having access to various vaccines in the coming months.

However, medical experts have said the current number of vaccinations is too low to have an impact on herd immunity linked to Covid-19.

NICD’s second warning – no other variant of the virus is heeded – is notable given developments in India, where new variants are emerging amid a massive outbreak in the region.

The number of coronavirus infections in India on Monday fell to just under 20 million, propelled by a 12th consecutive day of more than 300,000 new cases, Reuters reported, noting that scientists predict the pandemic could peak in the next few years. days.

A highly infectious variant of the virus has emerged from the region and has already jumped in countries like Indonesia, prompting other territories to halt travel to and from the South Asian country.

The B.1.617 variant is said to have reached at least 17 countries, from Britain and Iran to Switzerland, causing global concern and prompting many to close their borders to people coming from India.

The Indian outbreak has raised concerns at the local level, prompting the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to make recommendations to the government on potential restrictions for South Africa.

“The challenges we have seen in India are very serious,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his speech last week (April 30). “We received an opinion from the ministerial advisory board that we need to consider some restrictions and we are going through that,” he said.

The NICD said the variant has not been detected in South Africa.

“Testing positive samples for Covid-19 from travelers entering South Africa from India and their close contacts will be a priority,” he said. “This will allow us to detect B.1.617 and any other variant in a timely manner.”

Global Covid-19 infections have reached 153.5 million confirmed people, with the death toll reaching 3.22 million.

In South Africa, more than 4,500 new cases were reported over the weekend, bringing the total to 1,584,064. Deaths reached 54,417, while recoveries soared to 1,507,778, leaving the country with a balance of 21,869 active cases.


Read: Some good news for the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa


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