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Third wave of COVID-19 in South Africa to be ‘bigger’ than the first two, expert predicts

Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

With the vaccine rollout slower than expected, communicable diseases experts are warning that South Africa could experience a third wave of COVID-19 infections.

Since the first case recorded in March 2020, South Africa has experienced two waves of COVID-19 infections, the second deadlier than the first. Now experts are warning a third, even deadlier wave could be approaching.

“The lessons ahead of the third wave is that it is likely to come, it is likely to be bigger than the first two waves, if the evidence from other countries is anything to go by,” said Dr Waasila Jassat, a public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“What is important is how we prepare our hospital capacities and how we try to flatten the curve and I think that will be the most important intervention that will have so we can better prepare,” Jassat said, speaking during a South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance webinar hosted on Thursday.

Slowing transmission through behaviour change

Jassat warned that South Africa had to slow the rate of infection to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“The important thing is that we need to slow down transmission so that we do not have a rapid increase in cases, because that is when the hospitals do not cope. If we have restrictions at the start of the wave, I mean it will come, if we have restrictions and better preventative behaviour from individuals, we can have slower rate of increase,” said Jassat.

A resurgence in transmission is driven by behaviour change and is likely to particularly affect communities that have relatively low levels of transmission to date.

“Areas that experienced large epidemics during the first and second waves may be less affected by a third wave driven by behaviour change,” Jassat said.

“What we saw in South Africa was that most districts and provinces were affected more significantly in wave two that they were in wave one. So, the were higher level of cases, admissions and death in wave two,”.

Too early for vaccine to have effect

So far, South Africa has vaccinated 283,629 people, all of which have been with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. While the vaccine rollout has begun among health workers, Jassat believes the COVID-19 vaccines is highly unlikely to have any substantial effect on the infection rate before the fourth quarter of 2021.

“Vaccine administration is currently taking place only via J&J phase 3b clinical trial, primarily to health care workers. Confirmed timelines for acquisition and rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in South Africa have not been released and it is unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines will have a substantial indirect effect before the fourth quarter of 2021,” said Jassat.—Health-e News

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.