South Africa does not need a lockdown for fifth Covid-19 wave

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The Covid-19 pandemic continues to plague the nation as South Africa contests its fifth wave. Although, now the National State of Disaster has ended and experts believe it is a step in the right direction. 

Health Minister Joe Phaahla gazetted new regulations on March 15. The regulations were criticised for appearing as a “copy and paste” of the National State of Disaster that was in full force during South Africa’s arduous lockdown.

SA COULD LEAD GLOBE ON PANDEMIC RESPONSE

Vaccinology Professor Shabir Madhi believes that the “incoherent” and “illogical” new government Covid-19 regulations are the real state of disaster

“The Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee made recommendations to the health department in February which were ignored. We do not need another lockdown, we need people to get vaccinated,” says Madhi.

Infectious diseases expert Richard Lessells from the KZN Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), does not believe the lockdown had a massive impact on the pandemic’s trajectory. 

“The lockdown ending has not been devastating, which is good. Although Covid-19 is now able to spread more freely, it is causing less suffering, As we move through waves we must adapt and have new approaches. Many people this time around are going to be asymptomatic or have mild infections. In the beginning, the lockdown and regulations were to stop transmission and save the vulnerable,” he says. 

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of KRISP and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, says South Africa could guide the world on the future of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At present, low restrictions are appropriate. South Africa needs full economic activity. We will keep a laser-sharp focus on the science and following metrics of hospitalization and deaths in SA. It is like playing with fire. The main thing South Africa and other countries should be doing is increase vaccinations so the fire gets controlled.” said de Oliveira.

ALSO READ: Covid-19 fifth wave has begun in SA, health dept too slow to announce it

NO LOCKDOWN NEEDED FOR GOVERMENT TO HELP

Infectious diseases expert Professor Salim Abdool Karim also believes there are currently no justifications for a lockdown but had a five-point checklist of what would safeguard the public. 

“We need increased testing and surveillance, some indoor mass gathering capacity restrictions, indoor mask and vaccine requirements in public spaces, and have steps in place for a worst-case scenario. These public health measures, all of which have good evidence for their efficacy, are less intrusive and have fewer unintended harmful effects. 

Madhi believes the government should focus on: 

  • Existing wastewater surveillance and laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 should continue to be reported monthly.
  • SARS-CoV-2 monitoring should be added to the current influenza community and hospital surveillance programmes.
  • Continued genomic-based sentinel surveillance to track viral evolution.
  • Public health interventions – optimising ventilation of indoor spaces and avoiding whenever possible and masking should be recommended for during a Covid-19 and/or any other respiratory virus (including influenza should the winter influenza seasons return) waves and particularly for high-risk individuals.
  • Mandatory performance of hand hygiene should be stopped at points of entry to public spaces, BUT for reasons of general risk reduction of transmission of contact-related infections that are not Covid-19, alcohol-based hand rub should remain available for personal choice.
  • All border restrictions entering and leaving the country regarding SARS-CoV-2 should be removed with immediate effect.

Madhi’s colleagues infectious diseases Professor Marc Mendelson, Professor Jeremy Nel, Regina Osih, Professor Francois Venter and president of the South African Medical Research Council Glenda Gray mirrored his views.

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