The only way to stop a major second wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa this winter is the rollout of vaccines.
This is the view of Professor Alex van den Heever, chair of social security systems administration and management studies at the Wits School of Governance.
Speaking to ENCA, Van den Heever said there is a strong seasonal element to the pandemic which is related to human behavior.
“As the weather cools, people spend more time indoors which increases the transmission of the virus. It also creates the opportunity for super spreader events,” he said.
Summer is the period where the typical transmission rates are reduced, but what is happening in some regions is that transmission rates are increasing.
In these coronavirus hotspots regional restrictions are needed to stop the spread of the virus.
Van den Heever said the general national lockdown “clearly did not work in the first phase”, even though it had some effect.
He added that the economic damage caused by the strict national lockdown was so great that it cannot be repeated.
This means that localized interventions are important to contain the virus during the summer period.
Preventing a second wave of COVID-19 infections
To survive a second wave going into winter, Van den Heever said the country is going to need vaccines.
There is going to be an enormous push to get vaccines, but questions are raised whether the government is doing enough to ensure there is a rollout before April.
“If we do not have a rollout of vaccines before April, we will face a major second wave which we will not be able to contain,” he said.
Van den Heever said it is unclear what is currently happening and there is concern that the groundwork needed to roll out a vaccine in time is not being done.
“In Europe they are going through their winter period now which is why they are making the vaccine rollout urgent,” he said.
“They thought they could contain the pandemic in the winter period, but they couldn’t. That is an indication of what is going to happen to us.”
The good news is that South Africa has until April to get its ducks in a row. This time should be used to make sure we start to roll out the vaccine as soon as we can, Van den Heever said.
“We should have distributed enough vaccine by April to contain serious aspects of the pandemic – at least to the people most likely to die and frontline workers,” he said.
To ensure the vaccine is distributed soon, the country has to license a vaccine and make sure it has commitments for certain numbers of the vaccine.
He said this should be done quickly to ensure enough vaccines are secured to launch a national vaccination programme before winter.