A further extension of the coronavirus lockdown will only delay the peak infection period of the epidemic and won’t bring down the total number of cases.
This is according to Wits vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi, who spoke to the City Press about the possibility of the nationwide lockdown being extended.
Madhi said South Africa did not have a clear picture of the virus’s transmission, as there was an under-detection of cases due to the lack of testing at scale.
“We should have been testing roughly 10,000 to 15,000 people a day from the time the lockdown started, not two-and-a-half weeks after,” he explained.
During the first two weeks of the lockdown, testing actually decreased compared to the period before lockdown, Madhi noted.
Extension won’t decrease cases
Madhi explained that the purpose of the lockdown was to identify infected persons, place them in isolation, and quarantine their households.
He said this would result in fewer community transmissions because of less contact between people.
“But in the South African context, we still had people roaming the streets, queueing in supermarkets and for their Sassa grants. So the effectiveness of the national lockdown in South Africa is undermined by the realities of our local context,” Madhi stated.
In addition, the turnaround time of tests – which Madhi said could take up to three days – was too long.
Regarding the possibility of a lockdown extension, Madhi said modelling has shown that all this would do is move the peak period of infection.
Madhi claimed that the same total number of people were going to get infected, hospitalised, and die – even if the lockdown were to be extended.
Lockdown extension likelihood
South Africa recorded its largest daily increase in new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with 251 people testing positive.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairperson of the Health Minister’s COVID-19 advisory group, previously said an important figure to watch is the average number of new daily coronavirus cases.
This figure shows whether the lockdown has been effective in curbing the spread of the virus. It will also inform the decision on whether to extend the national lockdown or not.
Karim provided four scenarios for the average number of daily cases between 10-16 April.
- Equal to or above 90 – continue lockdown.
- 45 to 89 and the positivity to screening ratio (CHW) is above 1 in 1,000 – continue lockdown.
- 45 to 89 and the positivity to screening ratio (CHW) is equal to or below 1 in 1,000 – ease lockdown.
- Below or equal to 44 – ease lockdown.
Karim explained this set of criteria gives South Africa clear guidance on how to deal with the lockdown.
He noted, however, that the criteria he listed is for passive cases and should exclude cases identified through active screening.
Passive cases refer to people who have contracted the virus and went for testing after showing symptoms.