By Ronald Mpofu
JOHANNESBURG – Some health experts have ruled out the Covid-19 “second wave” but have also warned that the focus should be on decisive behavioural change to avoid superspreader events, as positive cases are still on the rise, especially in the Western Cape and in Gauteng.
Professor Alex van den Heever, chairperson of social security systems administration and management studies at Wits University’s School of Governance, said the country was unlikely to face a second wave this year and criticised the models being used for predictions.
“We are likely to see a resurgence going into winter next year. We are unlikely to see a significant resurgence before then. None of the models were very useful. Their results were heavily driven by their assumptions,” he said.
Van den Heever also dismissed the notion that the government would go back to stringent measures such as impose lockdown levels 4 and 5. He said we should continue to manage the epidemic with non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask-wearing, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces and large gatherings.
“Because of the prolonged nature of the pandemic we have to live with the virus rather than assume we can defeat it with expensive lockdowns.
“Government is still not properly messaging the airborne nature of the epidemic. It is clear taxis do not take seriously the need to keep windows partly open. Many employers also do not know how to manage this risk.
“As we approach winter we should be prohibiting large gatherings and requiring that taxis drive with windows open.”
Dr Marvin Hsiao from the division of medical virology at UCT said it was difficult to define or predict the second wave as we have no metric. “It is likely we will see a resurgence of infection in the future and it is just a matter of how many people become affected.
“In our current post-pandemic-peak period, limiting superspreader events is key in preventing future explosive outbreaks and limiting resurgence,” said Hsiao.
Kwara Kekana, Gauteng health MEC spokesperson, said although it cannot be predicted with absolute certainty whether South Africa may or may not go through a second wave, it was critical to curb superspreaders.
“We need stronger and continual engagements with the community, possibly beyond what we are doing at the moment around the need to protect others from getting the disease by protecting themselves.
“We may have to resort to the usage of community leaders and law enforcement agents to make sure community members do strictly abide by all Covid-19 preventative measures that have been prescribed by the experts,” said Kekana.
Dr Shakira Choonara, an award-winning independent public health practitioner, said should there be a second wave, South Africa will pull through because of the low number of deaths and high recovery rate.
Choonara said “superspreading events” are where dozens or hundreds of cases are traced back to a single gathering or person that can play an outsized role in how infections spread.
“South Africans have largely resumed normal life and in many cases thrown caution to the wind in social spaces, for example, a nightclub in the Western Cape which was identified as a superspreader event recently,” said Choonara.
“It is important for business owners to ensure social distancing measures or no overcrowding. We do not need hard lockdown regulations again, but individuals can shoulder the responsibility of avoiding crowded spaces and not go out unnecessarily. We should still be cautious.
“As a country, we cannot afford stringent lockdowns again and I would advise against it.
“Also again, we need to look at the current trends and the high rate of recoveries indicates it is not necessary. We are seeing an increase in cases in the hot spots and it is important we monitor trends here and put in place measures if necessary,” she said.