News / Covid-19

Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
3 minute read
2 Nov 2021
5:35 am

Elections and celebrations shouldn’t disregard Covid risks

Brian Sokutu

Experts have warned that South Africans shouldn't let their guard down, as election events still could become superspreader events.

EFF supporters gathered at the Orlando Stadium for the Tshela Thupa Rally ahead of the general elections on 8 May 2019. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

With outdoor political rallies having marked the runup to yesterday’s local government polls and more election victory gatherings expected in the coming weeks, the department of health has urged leaders to spread the message of compliance with Covid protocols.

Health spokesperson Foster Mohale said yesterday it was the collective responsibility of all South Africans “to protect yourselves, our loved ones and communities”.

He added: “We urge all leaders of society, including political leaders, to join hands with government and other sectors and use the influence to spread the message of compliance with Covid protocols within their constituencies.”

Mohale said the effects of any superspreader events would be noticeable after a minimum of four weeks. “But the fact that a number of cases, hospitalisation and deaths have been declining in the past month, suggests that political rallies did not have a huge impact on the transmission or spread of the virus,” he said.

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Professor Shabir Madhi, executive director of the vaccines and infectious diseases analytics research unit at Wits University, agreed with Mohale.

“At this stage, there is very little evidence to indicate that the runup to the elections has resulted in superspreader events,” he said.

“The most likely reason for this is because several activities, like political rallies, took place outdoors, where there was good ventilation. As we understand from the past experience, the major risk is when gatherings are taking place indoors – particularly in poorly ventilated areas.”

Madhi said the country had not lately seen “too much by way of superspreader events and an increase in Covid cases”.

This, he said, was due to “a combination of immunity that has been induced by a steady increase in vaccination and immunity induced from natural infection”.

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Said added: “All indications in South Africa is that probably three-quarters of the population were infected by the virus during the course of the first three waves and a significant percentage in the last wave, which was the most severe.

“The natural infection itself does confirm protection against reinfection – particularly when there has not been a change in the virus circulating.

“It might appear that the delta variant that was dominant during the course of the third wave is still prevalent. Hence,
people that were infected during the course of the third wave probably have a reasonable amount of protection.”

Madhi said there had also been an increase in vaccine coverage, “not as high as we would like it to be – but nevertheless sufficient”.

He said the main message to political parties was to ensure that all activities take place outdoors.

“It is unfortunate that some political parties have used these polls as an opportunity to cast a negative light on Covid vaccines – part of an electioneering ploy.

“Keeping victory celebrations outdoors is less risky than indoors,” he said.

During its recent polls, India saw an upsurge in Covid cases, after election campaigns became superspreader events.

The campaigns often involved rallies, with large crowds not adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing.

Political campaigners and candidates were also seen not following Covid safety protocols, with India’s election commission issuing warnings about such gatherings constituting risk in key election battlegrounds.