Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa is in its third wave of COVID-19 infections, but experts warn the local economy cannot afford another strict lockdown.
Citing communication from Mkhize, News24 reported that he warned provinces that COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising in South Africa.
“For all intents and purposes, we are in a third wave even if not fitting in technical definition. The numbers will no longer go down other than if we start intensive containment measures,” he said.
The latest warning from Mkhize came shortly after he warned of an increase in cases in the Free State, Gauteng, Northern Cape, and North West provinces.
Numerous districts in these provinces have been flagged by the NICD and have been placed “under observation” due to an appreciable rise in the 14-day average percent change.
Free State Health Department spokesperson Mondli Mvambi has also announced that the province is officially experiencing a third wave, with a “shocking rise of infections”.
Following Mkhize and Mvambi’s statements, the National Department of Health said the country was not in a third wave yet.
“We want to assure South Africans that we have not yet hit the third wave however we are at risk and we hence need to be on heightened vigilance as a country,” it said in a statement.
Whether South Africa is in a third wave or not, there are concerns about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Data published yesterday showed the country recorded 2,759 new cases – the highest since the second wave ended.
Experts said the rise in cases may result in additional lockdown measures, like restrictions on large gatherings.
Professor Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance said there was a high probability of a third wave which will be driven by people’s behaviour.
He said there should be a strong focus on limiting large gatherings. “If we can address gatherings, we will reduce the possibility of a third wave,” he said.
Winter periods made it difficult to contain the virus, which means that even with restrictions it would be challenging to avoid another wave.
“It is not the variants which are going to cause a third wave, but the variants will be part of a wave,” he said.
Mkhize recently said President Cyril Ramaphosa had not expressed an intention to tighten the lockdown regulations.
He did, however, say they have received an advisory from the ministerial advisory council that they have to consider some restrictions which they were now going through.
Many business leaders are warning against strict lockdown measures which will hurt the economy.
One of them was Martin Kingston, leader of the Economic Interventions Workgroup at Business for South Africa (B4SA).
Speaking to Bruce Whitfield, Kingston said South Africa’s economy can’t afford any lockdown measures increased over adjusted Level 1.
He highlighted that many sectors of the economy, including the alcohol and restaurant industries, have been severely damaged by previous lockdowns.
Kingston advocated that need to limit large gatherings. “As business we’ve said there shouldn’t be more than 50 people indoors and no more than 100 people outdoors,” he said.
Commenting on tougher lockdowns across the country, he said the government did not have any fiscal flexibility to provide support for strict lockdowns, like UIF and TERS payments.
“We cannot see a return to the increasing levels of unemployment we have seen last year without devastating consequences – both to the economy and society at large.”
He added that the most important thing which the country should do is to accelerate the vaccination programme.