Covid for Christmas
An increase in Covid–19 cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province has been linked to university students in Pretoria.
Koleka Mlisana, the co-chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid–19, told eNCA that a sudden uptick in new cases was traced to the Tshwane University of Technology and the Hatfield area.
South African researchers have also traced the uptick in cases to other areas of Tshwane, including Soshanguve, Atteridgeville, and Mamelodi.
“The good thing is that the fact that we are able to identify where the so-called hotspots are,” Mlisana said.
“It, therefore, allows us to zoom into those areas and get a better understanding.”
However, whether or not South Africa has a good Christmas comes down to us all taking individual responsibility, Mlisana stated.
“We have got this information, we’ve got this close monitoring, but the responsibility comes back to us as South African citizens.”
She said that wearing face masks has been proven effective, and that avoiding large gatherings, especially indoor gatherings, would also help prevent a surge in new Covid–19 cases.
Kerrigan McCarthy, a specialist pathologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, told Newzroom Afrika that studies showed mask-wearing reduces transmission risk to about 7%.
Mlisana and McCarthy both said that the most effective preventative measure South Africa has at its disposal is vaccinations.
“Right now, we should be saying, ‘Everybody, make sure you are vaccinated’,” Mlisana stated.
Even in people who already caught Covid–19, vaccinations ensure that you have a much lower chance of getting severe symptoms.
“If we want a good Christmas, let’s make sure we vaccinate and let’s make sure we were masks. And also, don’t get into crowded areas,” she said.
The encouragement for South Africans to follow Covid–19 safety protocols and get vaccinated comes as experts warned of signs that a fourth wave of infections may be starting in Gauteng.
Tulio de Oliveira, the KRISP director at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said increases in positivity rate and the reproduction number are signs that South Africa’s Covid–19 epidemic is growing again.
According to one estimate, the reproduction number in Gauteng surged to nearly 2.5 during the past two weeks — higher than even Gauteng’s disastrous third wave.
The reproduction number is an indication of how fast an infectious disease spreads.
Gauteng’s reproduction number essentially says that every person with Covid–19 in the province infect two or three other people.
Another sign that the fourth wave may be starting is that scientists have detected fragments of the coronavirus in Gauteng’s wastewater.
Mlisana said that they are also starting to see higher viral loads in the positive PCR test results.
“When something is about to happen, we see a small increase in the viral loads. And we’re beginning to see that,” she said.
Scientists are tracking two new variants that could impact the severity of South Africa’s next wave of Covid–19 infections.
Mlisana said there is close monitoring of genetic sequencing to see whether there is a new variant looming.
“We are now zooming in specifically in Gauteng where the infections are higher,” she said.
“We really don’t want to be faced with a new variant.”
De Olivera said they are looking at an even more transmissible sub-lineage of Delta (AY.4.2) and a variant that could reduce vaccine efficacy (B.1.640).
He said they are “alerted but not concerned” about the new variants and assured that the Delta sub-lineage is found at very minimal prevalence in South Africa.
The UK and Europe are worried about AY.4.2. Its prevalence increased about 15% in the UK, and it is estimated to be 10%–20% more transmissible than the original Delta variant.
Delta tore through countries like India and South Africa, bringing India’s healthcare system to its knees and South Africa’s to the brink.
Therefore, a more transmissible variant of Delta is a major cause for concern, especially with South Africa hoping to welcome thousands of UK tourists these holidays.
Experts have warned since July that South Africa should expect a fourth wave to hit in early December.
Salim Abdool Karim, former chair of the government’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid–19, expected the fourth wave to start on 2 December and last about 75 days.
Health minister Joe Phaahla has said that the fourth wave is inevitable — that the festive season coupled with the movement of people would trigger another wave of infections.
“This makes it more urgent that more and more people come forward to be vaccinated because we want everybody in our country to be protected from this inevitable fourth wave.
“If we all vaccinate, we can have a safe and enjoyable festive season,” Phaahla stated.
Now read: South Africa’s fourth wave of Covid–19 will be mild — unless this happens