As ‘Dezemba’ looms, here’s what could determine the Covid-19 fourth wave

18 November 2021 - 11:00
Prof Helen Rees says though SA has a low number of Covid-19 deaths, this could change rapidly change if people drop habits they have become accustomed to.
Prof Helen Rees says though SA has a low number of Covid-19 deaths, this could change rapidly change if people drop habits they have become accustomed to.
Image: SUPPLIED

SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) chairperson Prof Helen Rees has warned of behavioural changes ahead of the festive season that could swing SA into a Covid-19 fourth wave more rapidly.  

Rees, who spoke to Jacaranda this week, said though SA has a low number of Covid-19 deaths, this could change rapidly if people drop safety measures they have become accustomed to. 

To date, SA has had 2,926,914 Covid-19 cases with 566 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. Eleven more deaths have been reported, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 89,515.

The number of recoveries now stand at 2,820,514 with a recovery rate of 96.4%

“We have a modelling group in the country and they are trying to evaluate the behaviour and when the fourth wave will be,” she said.

“What we know at the moment is that there are certain things that might happen when going into a fourth wave ... If we drop all of the measures we have become accustomed to, that will push the fourth wave.” 

These include wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding being in proximity to people in small spaces with inadequate ventilation.

Reese said the most concerning issue is not knowing whether the country will get a new variant once it enters the fourth wave.

She said if there is no new variant, the fourth wave, hopefully, will not be as big and deadly as the third wave. 

“One of the things that is going to push the variant is having large numbers of infection and this is one of the main reasons we want people to be vaccinated,” she said.

Previously, former head of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 Prof Salim Abdool Karim said the severity of a fourth wave depends on the Covid-19 variants active at the time and the level of vaccination.

“What’s critical [about the possible wave] is whether we get a new variant. A new variant will determine whether we have a severe fourth wave or a mild one,” Abdool Karim told Algoa FM.

Last week, health minister Joe Phaahla said a fourth wave was expected between mid-December and mid-January.

He said the fourth wave would be influenced by factors such as movement and the possible emergence of new and highly transmissible variants.

“The scientific team has not yet detected a variant of concern. The more there are crowds and movement of people, the more you will have the fourth wave coming,” said Phaahla.

Last month, the Gauteng Covid-19 command council predicted that the fourth wave was likely to happen sometime between November and January as it expects quite a number of superspreader events to follow in a row. 

“The fourth wave is something we are still worried about,” it said. 

“If we had more vaccinations we wouldn’t be as worried but the rate of vaccination we have so far ... we are not at 50% with regards to the single doses. Here in Gauteng, we are at 32% single doses for both Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. We would be happier if we were at least 60%.”


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