SA is likely to experience third wave in winter, says Prof Abdool Karim
SA is likely to experience a third wave of Covid-19 infections during winter, when temperatures drop and people’s immunity will be weakened.
This is according to esteemed epidemiologist Prof Salim Abdool Karim, who until recently was chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.
“When I look at the trends, there is a reasonable likelihood we may see the third wave at the end of June and in July. That is when we are mostly indoors,” Karim said in an interview with SAfm on Wednesday.
Abdool Karim was recently appointed as a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Science Council.
He said only a few countries would be in a position to avoid a third wave of infections due to their vaccination rollouts.
“What we should be doing is trying to do our vaccinations as quick as possible so we vaccinate the majority of our healthcare workers and the elderly before the next wave comes so it is less severe,” he said.
According to Abdool Karim, whether SA experiences a third wave and when is partially dependent on people’s behaviour and whether there was a new variant.
“We don’t know and we can’t predict that because variants are emerging all around the world all the time. Our behaviour will lead to the spread of the coronavirus. We are likely to see an uptick in the winter months, when we start staying indoors. That doesn’t mean we will be in a third wave, but we have to prepare for that because the likelihood is there,” he said.
He described the situation in India — where the Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 200,000 and where cases are dramatically increasing daily — as “heartbreaking”.
“It’s worrying and heartbreaking to see what is going on there. I’m in regular communication with my colleagues in India. They are bursting at the seams. Patients can’t go to hospitals. They’ve run out of oxygen. The situation is beyond their capability to cope in terms of the infrastructure.
“If you think about India, Brazil and SA, all had a first wave, but they were not severe. A new variant emerged in all three countries. These variants are spreading faster and, because they spread faster, they put a lot of strain on healthcare systems.
“Many younger people are turning to hospitals with the second variant. The situation is dire in Brazil as well. We had it just as bad, but we had it earlier. We’ve been through the same. All three countries are giving us an indication of how we need to think about the future of Covid-19 differently,” said Abdool Karim.
He said SA was under pressure when the second wave hit, but “it did not seem so bad because of prior planning”.
There was a lot of planning to make sure SA did not run out of oxygen, he said.
“We have to be well prepared for the third wave,” he said.
Abdool Karim said it was important for the country to get the rollout of the vaccine going before the third wave hit.
“The idea behind this [rollout] is to try and get as many people as possible vaccinated. I’m very pleased that we can now look forward to a more secure supply because the Johnson & Johnson and the Pfizer vaccines will arrive,” he said.
He said vaccine supply was a global problem.
“The next biggest challenge would be to bring the private and public sectors together to speed up the rollout,” said Abdool Karim.
He cited New York as an example where vaccination was done fast and easily.
“That is the level of simplicity we have to emulate.”