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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

People are still dying of Covid-19 as cases steadily increase

Leading scientists warned against a deceptive optimism that the Covid pandemic is over.

Is South Africa in the eye of the Covid storm with a new wave of the pandemic looming as infections rise?

While nonpharmacological interventions – wearing of masks and social distancing – have largely disappeared, leading scientists yesterday warned against a deceptive public sentiment and optimism that the Covid pandemic, which has killed more than 6.5 million people globally, is over.

Covid-19 still deadly

People are getting infected in growing numbers and the disease is still killing, with at least 86 deaths since the beginning of September.

As the national department of health described infection statistics as “very low”, the latest report from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, reflecting Covid trends in South Africa, has found:

  • No evidence that reinfection risk was higher, due to the emergence of the beta or delta variants;
  • Reinfection risk increased substantially during the period of emergence of the omicron BA.1 variant and plateaued at a level higher than associated with previous variants; and
  • Emergence of the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages was associated with a gradual increase in reinfections. But trends remain consistent with what was observed for omicron BA.1.

Figures do not include those who were tested at home and did not report positive results.

Still no masks – for now

Health department spokesperson Foster Mohale agreed with analysis by Professor Bruce Mellado of the University of the Witwatersrand and global health senior lecturer emeritus Dr Jo Barnes from the University of Stellenbosch that only a soaring rate in infections would lead to stringent government-enforced measures – masks and lockdowns.

“Currently, BA.4 and BA.5 [so-called omicron variants] are evident, but not virulent,” said Mohale. “Anything is possible, depending on the rate of infections.

“We are confident that a level of immunity has developed and don’t foresee the return of masks.” However, Mellado said Covid had entered “the endemic phase”.

“The susceptible population has been infected and now we are dealing with re-infections. The return to masks and lockdowns would depend on how the virus evolves and how it mutates.

“Based on the current level of hospitalisation, community transmission and the fact that the virus has reached the endemic phase, it is highly unlikely that lockdown measures will be needed going forward.”

Barnes said: “We are currently in a lull – a quiet period. No one on earth can correctly predict when we could face a similar intense spread of Covid… but we are in a relatively safe space.

“We will only enter into enforced protection measures, like masks and lockdowns, if another more serious variant emerges – like delta.

“At the moment, it means the transmission rate of omicron is much the same as that of flu.” Already faced with a water shortage and power crisis, an economist said SA could be plunged into deeper trouble should there be a fresh rapid spread of the virus, leading to lockdowns.”

University of Johannesburg associate economics professor Peter Baur warned: “The economy is under huge strain.

“The potential increasing impact of Covid on business and households would have negative consequences, especially in terms of rising costs brought by loss of work days, with employees reporting ill.

“The persistence of the energy crisis and the potential worsening of the situation is fuelling uncertainty.”

Risk not totally gone

The epidemiology brief for the week ending 1 October (week 39) reports:

  • A total of 4 019 laboratory-confirmed Covid cases had been detected in South Africa. Of these, 1 665 were cases reported since the previous report. The number of new cases detected in the week (1 590) was similar to the number of new cases detected in the previous week (1 584).
  • Gauteng reported the highest weekly incidence risk (5.5 cases per 100 000 persons), followed by Western Cape (3.7 cases per 100 000 persons). The other provinces reported weekly incidence below two cases per 100 000 persons.
  • Gauteng had the highest number of hospital admissions (76/169 – 44.9%), followed by the Western Cape (36/169 – 21.3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (28/169 – 16.5%). There were no admissions in Northern Cape.

The highest weekly incidence risk of Covid admissions reported in week 39 was in the <65-year age group (1.2 admissions per 100 000 persons), and the lowest weekly incidence risk were in <20-year age group (0.2 admissions per 100 000 persons), said the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

Covid stats from the Department of Health

  • 7 September: 21 deaths, 1 262 new cases
  • 14 September: 17 deaths, 1 424 new cases
  • 21 September :23 deaths, 1 558 new cases
  • 29 September: 18 deaths, 1 532 new cases
  • 5 October: 7 deaths, 1 590 new cases.
  • Total deaths on 5 October: 102 194.
  • Recovery rate: 97.3%
  • Vaccines administered: 37 659 460

ALSO READ: Covid not over by a long shot

– brians@citizen.co.za

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