We can take precautions now to keep third wave at bay, but we must prepare for a possible rise in infections

Too early to say when but ‘guesstimate’ is mid-May

23 April 2021 - 14:38
By alex patrick AND Alex Patrick
An expert predicts a third wave of Covid-19 infections could possibly be 25% worse than the second wave, even as the country continues with its vaccine rollout programme. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda An expert predicts a third wave of Covid-19 infections could possibly be 25% worse than the second wave, even as the country continues with its vaccine rollout programme. File photo.

Based on the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in other countries, an SA expert predicts SA’s third wave could be 25% more severe than the second wave, but says the risk can be mitigated if precautions are taken now.

According to infection disease specialist Prof Ian Sanne, CEO of Right To Care, an NPO focused on prevention of the spread of viruses and specifically HIV, the organisation has made recommendations that hospitals prepare for a progressive implementation for capacity. 

Sanne could not give an official date for when the third wave was to be expected and said it could be too early to say, but his personal prediction would be by mid-May. 

“Our recommendations in planning levels is that a progressive implementation of patient and hospital capacity be available for the third wave which could be 25% higher than the second wave. 

“We base the prediction on information gathered in the monitoring of the epidemic in other countries.

“We don’t say block hospitals but rather progressively implement hospitals for the third wave.”

The implementations he described are:

  • first use existing capacity — use the beds and equipment available for new Covid-19 patients; 
  • then move on to opening more medical wards for Covid-19  patients — increasing bed utilisation to meet the demands of a possible influx of patients; and 
  • once the Covid-19 wards are full, look to open additional facilities including field hospitals and so on. 

“This is a warning to citizens that the third wave could be as high as 25% greater. We hope this doesn’t happen and that the vaccine will help [with immunisation].”

Sanne said wearing a mask and social distancing was the way to stave off the third wave of infections while vaccinations are administered. 

“The messaging is very clear: we do think respiratory droplet spread is the main cause of the infection and in confined spaces the concern is airborne transmission.”

This is why he supports the current regulations limiting the number of people gathering.

“Facilities should not exceed 50% capacity and there is a strong emphasis on ventilation. This will reduce the number super-spreader events. While the gatherings regulations are in place, restaurants are afforded the opportunity to open, but bars and nightclubs are a source of transmission.

“The emphasis is on planning because the longer we delay the third wave, the better it will be for everyone.”

Sanne said the areas they were looking at were districts in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape, which are showing higher infections rates.

“Active case finding [tracking and tracing] is under way to try mitigate this risk.”

According to national health department spokesperson Popo Maja, 1.1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine are due to arrive on Monday.

“However, there are still some quality issues that need to be resolved between now and then, together with the publication of the NFC [no-fault compensation fund] regulations,” he said.

Co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Thursday gazetted regulations for the Covid-19 Vaccine Injury No-fault Compensation Scheme, her office said.

“The scheme will provide access to compensation for persons who suffer harm, loss or damage as a result of vaccine injury caused by the administration of a Covid-19 vaccine administered at a registered facility within SA,” the statement read.

The contact details of the scheme are e-mail: info@nfcfund.co.za or telephone 086-112-3267.