Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
2 minute read
18 Nov 2021
5:31 am

Scientists say fourth wave may not be marked by high death and hospitalisation rate

Brian Sokutu

They say we’re on a long road trajectory towards endemicity.

Picture: iStock

Amid the uncertainty whether South Africa could be hit by yet another Covid wave, local scientists who were on Wednesday unanimous in predicting the festive season may not be marked by high hospitalisation and a high death rate, thanks to vaccinations.

With 16 million – about 40% of the country’s adult population – already vaccinated, the National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD) senior epidemiologist Dr Harry Moultrie, called on Covid-fatigued South Africans not to lower their guard during the festive season – “by avoiding crowded indoor spaces, due to bumps expected along the way”.

Speaking at a virtual media briefing, he warned: “What is absolutely clear now is that – with vaccines we have available – their effectiveness against preventing infection is not there to eradicate Sars-CoV-2 [coronavirus].

This means we’re on a long road trajectory towards endemicity.

ALSO READ: Covid-19 fourth wave likely to peak lower than previous waves

“What we are going to see is the fluctuations in Sars-CoV-2 for some years to come, which may come with an amount of seasonality. At the moment, it is unclear.”

Moultrie added it was “hard to commit to the statement that SA has passed the worst”.

He said: “Given the scenarios we have modelled, we are expecting the fourth wave to be smaller than the third in terms of hospitalisation and death. Severe disease is really something we need to focus on. By next year we could still be expecting more viral wave evolution. These are not projections but scenarios.”

Following the NICD alert, Moultrie said there was uncertainty interaction of flu and coronavirus.

“Different respiratory viruses can interact in different ways in terms of both risk transmission and disease severity. At the moment, there is very little data available on co-infections.”

He said this was because they have not seen much of an flu season globally in the past two years.

ALSO READ: Health department foresees no further Covid restrictions during festive season

“Clearly though, the situation needs to be watched quite closely. Influenza is associated with putting pressure on the hospital system – increased admissions and capacity. Viruses circulating at the same time, can either not interact or negatively do so – decrease or increase transmission.”

The NICD reported a steady increase in the number of flu cases, from week 34 (starting 23 August) – with a sharp increase recorded in week 44 (starting 1 November).

“Although the majority of people with influenza will present with mild illness, it may cause severe illness, which may require hospitalisation or cause death – especially in individuals who are at risk of getting severe influenza complications,” said Dr Sibongile

Walaza, medical epidemiologist at the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis at the NICD.