Mkhize’s graphs: How extended lockdown has delayed Covid-19 peak to September

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize during a coronavirus briefing. Image: Twitter

The government appears to have merely delayed the inevitable, but buying time could also translate into better preparedness and lower overall loss of life.

Data shared by the department of health on Saturday suggests that the two-week extension of the lockdown will not prevent the eventual spread and peak of Covid-19 in South Africa, it will merely shift the peak to September instead of June or July, as was expected earlier.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize already said last month that he expected between 60% and 70% of the population would eventually get the coronavirus, which currently has no agreed-upon treatment or cure, while a vaccine will probably only become available next year.

The delay could allow government more time to prepare for the worst, which may be inevitable.

Mkhize has repeatedly said that his department is expecting a “coming storm” and that the winter months are likely to exacerbate the rate of spread. Currently there are just over 2,000 confirmed cases of the virus infecting people in South Africa and 25 people had died as of Saturday evening.

Mkhize confirmed to political parties represented in parliament this week that a countrywide surge in Covid-19 infections could only be expected as late as September.

The minister attributed the change to the enforcement of the lockdown regulations by the SAPS and the army and regular advice from the health department.

According to a department of health slide below, however, the initial peak without a lockdown was expected to be much higher and arrive in mid-July. The initial 21-day lockdown moved this projected date to August 18, and the additional 14 days delayed the peak to the start of September without really lowering it much.

Department of health

Al Jama-Ah, a political party that fights for the interests of the Muslim community in Parliament, was concerned that the lockdown was likely to be suspended at the end of April. The party said despite the opposition to the extension of the shutdown by some parties and business, President Cyril Ramaphosa should continue with it and even strengthen the lockdown regulations.

“It will be a real May Day if the lockdown is lifted at end of April 2020 as the official opposition and big business are rejecting even the latest extension of the lockdown. There seems to be growing support to save the economy rather than lives,” said Hendricks.

He said: “The party’s position is to continue with lockdown until a vaccine is available. Regulations must even be tightened,” Hendricks said.

Six researchers dominated headlines with week, however, with an article suggesting a “blueprint” for South Africa to both end the lockdown and control the spread of the virus.

“The public debate on strategies to tackle Covid-19 often unhelpfully positions health and economic considerations in a diametric fashion – as trade-offs. In fact, economic policy has health consequences. And health policy has economic consequences. The two need to be seen as parts of a coherent whole,” they wrote.

Department of health slides comparing SA’s rate of increase to other countries.

In the case of South Africa, the country currently faced three interrelated problems:   the public health threat from the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic and health effects of the lockdown, and a range of intractable economic problems not directly due to the current pandemic, including high unemployment, low economic growth and falling per capita income.

“Any potentially viable response to Covid-19 needs to address all three aspects in concert. This is particularly important as the country plans for the next stage of its response after the lockdown. Focusing only on the health challenges and not paying attention to the economic issues will result in significantly higher economic costs, and will also undermine the health imperatives.

“Our view is that a protracted lockdown won’t necessarily have the effect of ridding the country of the virus, but it will result in unacceptably high health and economic consequences.”

They said the available evidence on the Covid-19 pandemic suggested that any initial containment of the disease through a lockdown would be short-lived.

“Also, it’s likely to result in a rebound of cases in the absence of aggressive community-wide screening for SARS-CoV-2 infectious cases, isolation of the identified cases and quarantine of their close contacts for at least 14 days.

“On top of this, South Africa may find itself permanently harmed by the simultaneous destruction of both the demand and supply sides of the economy under an extended generalised lockdown.

“This will have other unintended long-term health and economic consequences. For example, an extended lockdown could result in the undermining of other health services, such as the immunisation of children.

“The economic effects of a lockdown, too, are severe.

“Early forecasts suggest significant economic disruption from the current lockdown, which is costing the economy an estimated R13 billion per day. Preliminary projections by the South African Reserve Bank indicate that South Africa could lose 370,000 jobs in 2020.

“Projections by private banking analysts (based on the initial 21-day lockdown) suggest a GDP contraction of 7% during 2020, leading to a fiscal deficit of 12% of GDP (forecast at 6.8% in the 2020 budget) and a debt-to-GDP ratio in excess of 81% in 2021. This means that the country’s already limited public finances will be further constrained.”

They advised that economic activities should be allowed in a way “consistent with the aim of preventing the uncontrolled spread of the virus”.

Read their article here.

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