Fourth wave: keep calm and carry on masking

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Fourth wave: keep calm and carry on masking

There’s likely to be an uptick in hospitalisations in two to three weeks, but that’s no reason to panic: health minister

Senior science reporter
Minister of health Dr Joe Phaahla says the onset of the festive season and and increase in human mobility at this time of year make it more critical for more people to get vaccinated.
WARNING SIGNS Minister of health Dr Joe Phaahla says the onset of the festive season and and increase in human mobility at this time of year make it more critical for more people to get vaccinated.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The fourth wave is starting, but there is no reason for national panic at this stage.

According to experts, the wave will hit provinces at different times and intensities. The devastation already caused by Delta in the country will stand us in good stead for this wave, and citizens still have influence over how and if the wave surges.

Prof Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at Wits University, told Sunday Times Daily: “We are in the early stages of a resurgence, and are likely to start seeing an uptick of hospitalisations in two to three weeks.”

He said there had been an increase in cases during the past week, but, “as with the third and earlier waves, the timing will differ by province”.

Now, 64% of those 60 and over are vaccinated, as are 58% of those 50 and over. This is great. As Madiba said, it always seems impossible until it’s done. We keep going.
Dr Stavros Nicolaou, Business for SA

This is “due to multiple factors, including the most recent wave dynamics, possibly population level immunity and waning thereof”.   

On Sunday, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported 687 new cases.

This brings it close to a cumulative 3-million threshold, with the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases since March last year at 2,929,862. 

This increase represents a 3.4% positivity rate and, according to the World Health Organisation, as long as the test positivity rate is 5% or below for two consecutive weeks, countries should not be in hard lockdown.

However, that doesn’t mean it is time to relax and not take precautions.

South Africans have influence over this wave by observing non-pharmaceutical protocols and getting vaccinated.

Experts are keeping an eye on the vaccine rollout which is directly linked to the severity or mildness of a fourth wave.

“I know the vaccination rate is slower than we had all hoped, but the numbers are starting to add up,” said Dr Stavros Nicolaou on behalf of Business for SA, which has partnered with government on the rollout.

“Now, 64% of those 60 and over are vaccinated, as are 58% of those 50 and over. This is great. As Madiba said, it always seems impossible until it’s done. We keep going,” he said.

Minister of health Joe Phaahla, said at the latest media briefing that the festive season and human mobility at this time of year meant a fourth wave made it “even 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,” he said.

Wits University professor and health economist Gesine Meyer-Rath, a member of the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium (SACMC) said: “It’s quite likely there will be another increase in hospital admissions just as in other countries, but they — especially in the northern hemisphere — are experiencing their Delta wave, which we’ve already had.”

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