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Karim: It’s time to drop sanitising and masking outdoors

South Africa is ready to drop some restrictions, says the former head of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19, Prof Salim Abdool Karim.

This past Saturday (5 March) marked two years to the day since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in South Africa. Since then, the country has reported more than 3.6m cases and almost 100,000 deaths.

Abdool Karim, world-renowned epidemiologist and head of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA (Caprisa), thinks sanitising and wearing masks outdoors could be stopped, but he believes some restrictions will have to remain in place, reports eNCA.

“I don’t know what the government’s plans are for removing masks but what we’ve seen from other countries is that we have reached a stage where we can change our overall strategy, we can remove most of our restrictions and public health measures at this point,” he said.

In summing up the country’s initial response to the pandemic since it started, he said he admitted that SA made its “fair share of mistakes”, but also that “we did more things right than wrong”.

“When we did things wrong we did it in the presence of uncertainty … In my one year on the MAC, I think we did the best we could. I think the country responded quite well,” he said.

Karim told TimesLIVE that in early March last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s adviser asked Abdool Karim to assist government with its plan to deal with COVID-19. On March 23 he was invited by then health minister Zweli Mkhize’s office to attend an online meeting.

It was there that it was announced Abdool Karim would chair the MAC. That same evening the president announced the hard lockdown.

“We were dealing with a very high level of uncertainty, and I think our actions at the time were appropriate,” he told TimesLIVE. “We were watching horrific pictures from Italy and New York on TV, and didn’t want to see that in SA, so we had to act.”

He believes SA’s initial swift action paid dividends. “We postponed the initial wave by about eight weeks or so. I said at the time that the virus was going to come; we just had to be ready for it.”

Two years into the pandemic, Abdool Karim believes SA must adopt a long-term view on how to handle COVID-19.

“We have to look at better vaccines and better coverage. First generation vaccines that we have now, they do certain things. The next generation vaccines have to do something more. We don’t know what the next variants are going to look like because variants don’t come from each other. They all evolve in parallel. But we have to prepare.”

Abdool Karim said the virus can’t keep mutating in a way that gives it the advantage. “It has to come to a point where it will mutate but doesn’t get an advantage. A new variant only comes about when a new virus with multiple mutations has an advantage over the other viruses.

“When you get to that point when you know that the virus can’t mutate, you make vaccines that are much more effective against it,” he said. He predicted that by the end of this year, the response would have changed, “in that we would have a much higher proportion of people vaccinated, so we have less severe disease”.

“There is a new drug made by Pfizer. You take a five-day course and it's 89% effective in preventing hospitalisation. It should be available by the end of the year.

“It will change the face of COVID from a disease that kills millions of people to a disease we can treat. We have done exactly the same with HIV,” he said.


eNCA article – COVID-19 | Karim says SA ready to lift the mask (Open access)


TimesLIVE article – We did more things right than wrong: Prof Salim Abdool Karim (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


COVID-19 has made Prof Abdool Karim a media celebrity


Abdool Karim and Fauci share the 2020 John Maddox Prize


Second wave inevitable if SA doesn't change behaviour – Abdool Karim


Pfizer’s anti-COVID oral tablets show robust efficacy


Gauteng considering to Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Molnupiravir for COVID-19



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