Reitumetse Makwea
Digital Intern
3 minute read
22 Nov 2021
5:45 am

Early signs of Covid fourth wave in lead up to the festive season

Reitumetse Makwea

According to the head of UKZN's public health and nursing school, Prof Mosa Moshabela, numbers show that one person is infecting two others.

(Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

As the Covid infection rate in Gauteng starts rising rapidly, experts say the province is already in the acceleration stage of the fourth wave.

If we don’t do anything now – by increasing vaccinations and sticking to the hygiene rules – then we could be looking at thousands of cases and scores of deaths a day by Christmas.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), reported 887 new Covid cases countrywide, with 584 of these in Gauteng.

The head of the public health and nursing school at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Prof Mosa Moshabela, said Gauteng has been showing consistently increasing case numbers which seemed to be doubling at a rapid pace.

“I see it as an early signal of the fourth wave,” the public health expert said.

“We also seeing those numbers jumping exponentially in the Northern Cape; and if numbers increase in the Northern Cape, they are likely to increase in the Free State.

“If numbers increase in Gauteng they are likely to increase in surrounding provinces because Gauteng is connected to a number of provinces.”

Looking at the active cases which were now above 3 000, a larger number of people were infectious.

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“They are likely to transmit [the] infection to other people, that’s how the case numbers will grow from one person to the next,” said Moshabela.

“In short we are seeing the early signals of the fourth wave. In Gauteng, the numbers are quite high. It shows that one person is infecting two people.”

Vaccinologist and University of the Witwatersrand’s Prof Shabir Madhi said it was difficult to attribute the increased cases to the elections, as the increase would have been countrywide, rather than mainly in Gauteng.

“Drivers behind resurgence likely include waning of immunity from past infection, coupled with behaviour changes,” he said.

Epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes said it had been three weeks since the election, which is longer than the incubation period for the infection, “so it is safe to assume that the present build-up of cases is not directly attributable to the election itself”.

She added: “As in most other countries where vaccination has been carried out on a population-wide scale, serious Covid infection has now to an overwhelming extent become a condition attacking the unvaccinated.”

She said South Africa had not yet vaccinated 40% of its adult population, as a result, a large portion of the population was still vulnerable to infection,” Barnes added.

“The risk is not only to themselves but to all those other persons they infect in turn.

“Another worrying aspect is that cases of seasonal flu are on the rise as well and this is outside of the normal winter infection period.”

The NICD said there had been a spike in influenza cases in the country, with many people requiring hospitalisation.
However, the surge was first noticed in August in five provinces.

The institute said older people as well those with underlying illnesses were at an increased risk, and the rise in flu cases was also another indication that conditions for the spread of Covid were becoming increasingly favourable.

The virus’s trajectory

  • South Africa’s fourth wave is expected to occur in December this year and January next year.
  • While vaccination coverage is increasing, it is happening at a slow rate.
  • More efforts are needed to address vaccine accessi- bility and hesitancy, experts say.
  • It’s almost six months since South Africa launched its vaccination programme.
  • More than 23.1 million people have received at least one dose – and close to 13 million are fully vaccinated.

– reitumetsem@citizen.co.za