Stay put, or risk unleashing a virus ‘second wave’

A busy street scene in the Pretoria CBD where Tshwane Residents can be seen not practicing social distancing, 25 March 2020. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Experts have warned that unless citizens adhere to the stringent lockdown restrictions and remain indoors as much as possible, a more deadly second wave of the coronavirus will wreak havoc.

The increase in the number of Covid-19 infections to over 700 cases yesterday is only the beginning, with experts saying a “second wave” is guaranteed if people do not stay indoors.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize yesterday confirmed that the number of Covid-19 infections had shot up to 709, a 28% increase from Tuesday.

Projections from the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (Sacema) released last week shows that at an infection rate of 10%, 87,900 people could die from the Covid-19 infection.

At an infection rate of 20%, Sacema projected that up t0 176,000 people could die and that the virus could kill up to 351,000 at a 40% infection rate.

The SA Medical Association (Sama) said it was impossible to predict how long it would take to stop the virus but said they would know in two months.

“After the first wave we will take a deep breath and then carry on to the second wave. If people don’t quarantine or lockdown, the second wave is a guarantee,” said Sama chair Dr Angelique Coetzee.

She added that, as with any pandemic, teams have been identified to conduct risk management and research on the disease epidemiology. Dr Shakira Choonara, an independent public health practitioner, said there tended to always be an end in sight, but how long and when the pandemic will end was always uncertain.

She said the movement and focus was towards preventing the virus from spreading further and that because prevention was now dependent on country contexts, commitments and resources, the possible projection was unclear.

“In the absence of a vaccine and in current times there is no definitive. For example, South Korea on the one end shows a major decline.

“Italy began showing a decline but this was short-lived and the number of deaths has increased to 743. It is a devastating time,” Dr Choonara said.

She said once people lose their lives to the virus, coupled with prevention measures, they expected the curve to begin to flatten, slowing the spread of the disease and reducing the number of patients who need urgent medical care.

“However, this is the best-case scenario and a lot needs to happen before we get there,” Dr Choonara said.

Asked about the chances of a second infection wave hitting once the curve was flattened, she said even though there was a relatively low number of re-infections, the fact was that the likelihood remained.

“Again, in the absence of a vaccine and lifting any of the prevention measures in place, we simply do not know and will need to monitor this, especially in countries which have moved towards flattening the curve.

“There are lessons there,” she said.

Dr Choonara added that on a continent such as Africa – without adequate water, sanitation, healthcare and even resources – this risk was even greater.

siphom@citizen.co.za

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