SA experts warn that COVID-19 is 'here to stay'

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South African experts have called for a reality check, says a Sunday Times report: COVID-19 is an airborne disease, so it's not going away. Vaccines will reduce hospitalisations and deaths but not eliminate them.

Wits vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi told the Sunday Times: "Getting rid of the virus is not going to happen under any circumstances. The goal now is to stop severe disease and death. Nobody is totally protected, and ongoing circulation means people remain at risk of dying.

"If we can get into the same space as seasonal influenza, which kills 11,000 South Africans every year, we should call it a success story."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation, is quoted as saying: "This pandemic is a long way from over", and that it was getting worse.

"In January and February this year, the world saw six consecutive weeks of declining cases but we have now seen seven consecutive weeks of increasing cases and four weeks of increasing deaths, and last week was the world's highest number of cases in a single week so far."

This is despite about 780m doses of vaccines administered globally, says the Sunday Times report.

According to National Institute for Communicable Diseases public health expert Kerrigan McCarthy, "in South Africa we are experiencing caseloads as low as, or lower than, the inter-wave levels seen in August-October last year. However, we have seen a number of localised outbreaks in congregate settings including schools and university residences. These are concerning, as they may herald a new wave of infections."

She said that "COVID fatigue is a global phenomenon but COVID is here to stay" and "we should not let our guard down".

Learning to live with an airborne virus that won't go away is taking its toll, according to a historian at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena. "We are just at the tip of the iceberg of the mental fallout and people are presenting with depression and other mental health challenges," she said, "But none of us can control where the virus is going and this will put extra strain on an already stretched health system."

Professor Francois Venter of Wits University said it was "hard to predict" the third wave "but most places that have seen a classic first and second wave have seen a third, so I sadly suspect we will have another". He said a "quick and efficient" vaccine rollout could break the back of the pandemic, but "sadly, this is not happening".

Professor Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, expects a third wave "if our pandemic mimics the north and their pandemic and other parts of Africa".

 

SA could return to a "relatively normal" life if the most vulnerable people received coronavirus vaccines within the next few months, Wits vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi is quoted as saying in a BusinessLIVE report. "If we can get 15-million people vaccinated in the next four months, SA could get back to a relatively normal life despite ongoing circulation of the virus," he said in a virtual event hosted by financial services group PSG.

The national Health Department estimates vaccinating 5.5-million people aged over 60 could save 40,000 lives, according to documents presented to parliament last week. It aims to inoculate 16.6-million people between mid-May and mid-October, starting with the oldest.

The goal of vaccination should be to reduce deaths from the disease to a similar level to influenza, said Madhi. Flu killed about 11,500 people a year between 2013 and 2015, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. "Covid-19 is not going to disappear. It will be with us for our lifetime. It is really about minimising its impact," he said.

SA’s Covid-19 death toll relative to the size of its population was among the worst in the world, he said. SA ranked 11th, with a COVID-19 death rate of close to 190 per 100,000 population, higher than Spain, Italy, the UK and US, he said. "SA has not been spared, despite the huge amount of restrictions that have been placed on society," he said.

Full Sunday Times report (Restricted access)

Full BusinessLIVE report (Restricted access)


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