March 28, 2021

Experts speak out against stricter Easter weekend lockdown

Johannesburg – A top award-winning independent public health practitioner, Dr. Shakira Choonara, has cautioned against the imposition of the envisaged stricter lockdown, as we approach the Easter holidays, saying that it was not necessary because most places have since adapted adequately to ensuring implementation of prevention measures.

There have been rumours that President Cyril Ramaphosa is considering a stricter lockdown regime of regulations leading up to the Easter holidays, since, it is feared many people will ignore Covid-19 regulations by not wearing masks, and adherence to social distancing rules.

Choonara said it was important for South Africans to take responsibility and be reminded of the virus, as many people have let their guard down, with social interaction on the increase under adjusted alert level-1 regulations.

“There are many businesses which have staff who returned to work, perhaps working at home could be encouraged again. We could take these sorts of measures instead of lockdowns. I also think the government should focus on procuring a vaccine as a priority,” said Choonara.

Choonara added that a strong political understanding of the gravity of public health was crucial in managing the pandemic. “The increase in awareness of the virus and prevention measures from adults to even children has been important. This is driven by all stakeholders (media, private sector, public sector, NGOs),” she said.

“I find it fascinating that public health messaging, e.g. masks, social distancing, understanding of lockdowns is even understood by children. Messaging has been widespread, simple and easy to understand. Changing social and behaviour norms is important in managing a pandemic. This usually takes decades to achieve, but was achieved in a short space of time (with the break of Covid-19),” said Choonara.

Choonara further criticised the government for failing to prioritise effectively the procurement of a vaccine, that the slow roll-out was unacceptable.

An expert from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), associate professor Benjamin Smart, said due to the recent steep decline in Covid-19 cases, there was currently good capacity in hospitals across the country.

“However, a significant third wave could potentially put the healthcare system under similar pressure to the second wave, and importantly, this has a knock-on effect on non-Covid-related health services,” warned Smart.

Smart said studies suggest that hard lockdowns, such as the level 5 lockdown South Africa endured in April, last year, were no more effective at slowing the spread of Covid-19 than the basic mitigation strategies of preventing large gatherings, encouraging social distancing, mask-wearing, and sanitising.

“The main effect of a return to that scenario would be a negative impact on the economy and other healthcare services.

“It may be prudent, however, to encourage people not to travel excessively, and not to participate in large gatherings (such as church attendance, or group social events). Were we to enter a third wave, restrictions on alcohol purchases do seem to be effective in reducing hospital admissions. So, this should also be considered;” said Smart.

South African Medical Association spokesperson Dr. Angelique Coetzee, said instead of a stricter lockdown, citizens need to take responsibility and adhere to the basic rules of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

”Enforcing public transport guidelines is a recommendation on long distance travelling of not more than 70% capacity. Curfew may be extended to be from either 21h00 or 22h00 until 5h00 for a limited time of maybe 10 days. Care needs to be taken as not to put undue pressure on our very fragile economy,” suggested Coetzee.

Asked what lessons from the previous first and second waves can assist in mitigating the number of infections and casualties, Coetzee said: “Employ permanent doctors in public sector, appoint correct nursing staff, make sure PPE, consumables, oxygen, running water are, inter alia, in place, as well as correct, timeous reporting of cases, stop corruption, let doctors in the field decide what is best and leave politicians to do their politics outside of this sphere.”

Sunday Independent

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