WHO’s worst case scenario sees up to 24,000 COVID deaths in SA

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that South Africa will experience the third highest toll in Africa from the coronavirus pandemic, with just under 24,000 deaths, reports Sunday Times.

A report by the WHO regional office for Africa, which models the potential effects of widespread community transmission of COVID-19 on the continent, predicts that as many as 24m South Africans could be infected with the virus. About 20m of these cases could be non-symptomatic.

The world body predicts that 23,661 people in South Africa could lose their lives to COVID-19.

The report outlines the worst-case scenario of transmission in Africa in the event that there are few to no successful interventions. It says community transmission could see 22% of the continental population of about a billion infected over the next year. It identifies 10 countries with the highest risk of exposure – seven small nations plus the more populous countries of South Africa, Algeria and Cameroon.

In its scenario modelling, however, the WHO report says Nigeria will have the highest number of infections, followed by Algeria and then South Africa.

Noting that Africa so far has been successful in averting the calamity seen on other continents, the WHO nonetheless warns that the worst could still unfold if containment measures are not strictly practised.

The Sunday Times report says one of the authors of the WHO report, Dr Michel Yao – the programme manager for emergency response for the WHO’s Africa region – said South Africa is faring far better than some of its counterparts, particularly in the rate of testing, which remains a challenge in many countries on the continent.

But, Yao said South Africa’s well-developed road infrastructure unfortunately enables the spread of the virus as people move around easily.

Unlike parts of the world that are able to absorb some of the economic loss brought about by efforts to contain the virus, Yao said, African countries are in a more precarious position. “People who make their livelihoods by selling in the streets can no longer do that because of lockdown. But before easing the confinement measures, one of the first things is to analyse the trend. Where are the hot spots where the disease is spreading fast? This can guide the decision. Asked about the optimal time to ease lockdown regulations, Yao said: “It will take time.”

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

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