Brace for second wave of Covid-19, SA warned

Medical experts say a second wave of coronavirus infections is likely to occur and it’s question of when, how big and how long it will last. Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.
Medical experts say a second wave of coronavirus infections is likely to occur and it’s question of when, how big and how long it will last.
Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

Second Wave – What Does It Mean, and Can We Stop It?

Medical experts say a second wave of coronavirus infections is highly possible and SA must not give in to “pandemic fatigue” and abandon preventative interventions.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize expressed concern over South Africa’s coronavirus trends after he revealed on Wednesday epidemiological reports showed the country had a 9.1% increase in new cases over the past week, and 10.7% increase in the past 14 days.

“We are also seeing concerning increases in some of the provinces. To illustrate this, in the last seven days, there was a marked increase in the number of new cases in the Western Cape. The province recorded a 42% increase in new infections.”

Dr Zweli Mkhize

Mkhize added the ministry was encouraging all provinces to pay attention to these increasing numbers and quickly mount a response, including contact tracing and quarantine.

Risk Mitigation – Avoid Second Wave, Mask Up

“As we continue to monitor the development of a vaccine, the only weapon we possess as a country is our social behaviour and constant adherence to health protocols. All of us must take this responsibility and always encourage those around us to socially distance, mask up, and obey hand hygiene protocols,” he said.

As daily infections increase across the country, there is much talk in South Africa about a second wave or resurgence of Covid-19.

South Africa Medical Research Council president and African Potential Foundation trustee Professor Glenda Gray told The Star that without a biomedical intervention like a vaccine, South Africa would continue to see transmissions.

However, people needed to make sure that transmission doesn’t happen to the most vulnerable. Not only will this impact our healthcare systems, but our economy.

“If we go into level 5 lockdown again we will break the economy. While we can’t afford to devastate families further, we have to find a balance where we are able to slow transmission, open the economy and keep the hospitals open, and the only way is to ensure that everybody commits to NPI [non-pharmaceutical interventions – washing hands, sanitising and social distancing].”

Prof Glenda Gray

Gray added a second wave could perhaps not be as severe as the first wave, as people would be less exposed to circulating viruses because of masking up.

“The second reason is we know how to manage the disease much better and people are much more aware and they will de-risk themselves,” she said.

Herd immunity?

Professor Alex Welte of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University said that when thinking about a second wave, the reproductive number of the virus should be considered instead of herd immunity.

A reproductive number indicates how contagious and infectious disease is and herd immunity is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease.

Welte added cases would pick up as a result of people behaving more carelessly, but it also critically depended on how long individual immunity lasted for those infected.

“If we have long-lasting immunity we could hope that we get minor blimps, but if immunity does largely fade within a year or so, then we’re back to square one,” Welte said.

The other big concern is people’s behaviour: “It’s impossible to live super carefully with everything you do in life, so we’re going to let our guard down, and depending how far we let it go, that will have a big impact.”

Welte said the third complication in the pandemic was how the virus evolved.

“It’s difficult to predict if it evolves to make it easier or harder to transmit,” he said. The Spanish Flu pandemic saw the virus mutate between waves to become far more virulent and ultimately more deadly. As such, we must remain on our guard and stay vigilant, stay safe, and stay masked up.

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