Johannesburg – Medical experts say a second wave of coronavirus infections is likely to occur. However, it’s a question of when, how big and how long it will last.
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,” he said.
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.
“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,” 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 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.
“If we go into level 5 lockdown again we will break the economy … We can’t afford to devastate families any further so 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 intervention),” she said. These include washing hands regularly, sanitising and social distancing.
Gray added a second wave would not be as severe as the first wave because people would be less exposed to circulating viruses because of NPIs.
“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 sai
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.
He added the other big concern was 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