South Africa still has a very hard road ahead

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A sharp rise in new coronavirus cases is inevitable, but we’ve bought ourselves enough time to do something about it


By Jack Philips

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.


South Africa seems to be doing relatively well in its containment of the coronavirus, as of writing we have 3 154 cases, 903 recoveries, and 54 deaths. We are also seeing a relatively low increase in the number of daily cases, but this isn’t going to be norm and South Africa must prepare.


On the 13th of April, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, an adviser to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, gave a broad presentation of South Africa’s state in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. He also outlined what is sure to happen in the future and how we should begin to prepare for the inevitable.


He explained that South Africa is unique in its successful containment of the coronavirus, in that it has not seen the exponential growth in confirmed cases as has been seen in other countries, but rather a flattening in the curve. This, he made clear, is not due to a lack of testing. In fact, our confirmed case load began to decline as we increased the number of tests being taken. What this plateau in confirmed cases suggests is a genuine reduction in the number of new cases.


This is attributable to our unique situation of being able to respond quickly and efficiently to the virus with a timely lockdown. Other countries were overwhelmed with cases before they had this chance. But Professor Karim asks, “Is the spread avoidable?” to which he answers, “Very, very unlikely. Put simply, no. We cannot escape this epidemic”. He said that South Africa has only bought itself time and that the exponential growth in cases, while delayed, is inevitable.


The Professor did, however, shed light on South Africa’s unique positive action against the spread of the virus, that we are the only country with government officials actively going out into communities and testing for the virus. This is instead of waiting for people to experience symptoms and take themselves to a medical institution for testing.


Now, if we’ll just be hit with exponential growth anyway, why not let the disease run its rampant course through the country and be done with it? Because, Karim explains, as we have seen in New York, we don’t want to run out of hospital beds, we don’t want to reach capacity too quickly, or at all, if possible.


Thus, Karim outlines various plans detailing how we should best prepare for the oncoming curve with the time (four to six weeks, he suggests) we have gained with early action. He suggests that lockdown should start being eased as the number of new daily cases drops under 90 and that those over 70, for being exceptionally vulnerable to the virus, are recommended to undergo longer, voluntary lockdowns.


In this time bought, Karim recommends, South Africa should begin building field hospitals as seen in Central Park, New York. We should rapidly increase testing and identify and manage hotspots for the virus. We should also, Karim solemnly said, find ways of managing safe funerals and increasing burial capacity.


Professor Karim also spoke of how surveillance would be carried out after the worst of the virus is over (which he hesitantly said should be around September) which will include screenings of selected groups from places like schools, mines and prisons.


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