Doubt swirls over Covid-19 lockdown efficacy

10 May 2020 - 00:03 By JEFF WICKS and GRAEME HOSKEN
An expert says the lockdown had failed to contain the pandemic.
An expert says the lockdown had failed to contain the pandemic.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

One week into level 4 lockdown an alarming spike in Covid-19 infections in two provinces has prompted calls for increased restrictions in hotbed areas.

This week, the health department recorded 2,200 new infections nationally as nearly 1.5-million South Africans returned to work. Of these, 1,711 cases - about 78% - were in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

The department said it was too early to judge the effects of the lockdown and its slight easing on the spread of the virus or on getting people back to work. But economists have called for areas where the case load is low to be reopened further.

This, they say, will mitigate the economic devastation.

Of SA's 9,420 Covid-19 infections so far, about half have been reported in the Western Cape

In the Eastern Cape, cases leapt from 814 on Monday to 1,078 yesterday, representing a 32% spike in the space of six days.

The Western Cape recorded the highest increase in infections during the week with a 43% rise, while cases rose 17% in North West and 18% in KwaZulu-Natal.

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said it was still too early to say if the easing of lockdown restrictions this week had prompted an upswing in infection numbers.

But he said it was worrying that some people were ignoring the rules.

"The department is concerned that some communities do not adhere to lockdown regulations," he said.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said President Cyril Ramaphosa had asked for a report on how well the level 4 restrictions were working, and it would be discussed by the national command council today.

At a briefing in Cape Town yesterday, health minister Zweli Mkhize said the department's approach would be to tighten restrictions in areas with higher rates of transmissions. "Now there is a need to focus area by area," he said.

At the same briefing, Western Cape premier Alan Winde said there had been no discussion of returning the province to a harder level 5 lockdown.

"Our discussion and focus is about looking at the hotspots and the management of them," Winde said.

Political economist Daniel Silke said there were areas of the country that could be opened up further.

"We have to be smarter in terms of the overall restrictions and be more agile in identifying areas of commerce and industry that can begin to be relaxed in provinces where the spread has not spiked," he said.

Covid-19 cases in SA
Covid-19 cases in SA
Image: Nolo Moima

Silke said the state should go beyond tailoring lockdown measures province by province and drill down to suburb level to contain hotspots of infection.

Wits University economics professor Chris Malikane said the country had no choice but to allow the economy to function.

"Within provinces there are places where population densities are low, and we should begin to open the economy in those areas.

"The spatial dimension to the lockdown, and how it is relaxed or hardened, will be important," he said.

But Wits health economist Professor Alex van den Heever said the lockdown had failed to contain the pandemic.

"Level 5 lockdown didn't work and going back to it won't make a difference. The outbreaks are in communities which cannot be locked down," he said.

"We are potentially not seeing the true scale of the pandemic in the country."


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