President Cyril Ramaphosa’s most recent ‘family meeting’ on 11 January painted a sober picture of the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. The combination of a new strain of the virus and a second wave of infections has placed an immense burden on the health facilities. Margaret Blackie reminds us that reducing social contact, wearing a mask and washing hands are still the most effective ways to contain the pandemic.
We are in the midst of the second wave of Covid-19. We are suffering the consequences of two independent, overlapping phenomena.
The first is the December holidays, during which many people travelled and gathered socially for family and religious celebrations. The gatherings and migration will subside again by mid-January, but by then the virus will have spread to many areas and groups.
The second is the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19 which appears to be more easily transmitted. In this context, social distancing becomes even more important. Unfortunately, the new variant coincided with the interaction of groups that had not gathered during 2020.
The above graph from Biznews shows how the number of COVID-19 related deaths in the Western Cape increased exponentially in December. Hospitals in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape are currently overwhelmed. Gauteng and other provinces will follow as people return home and unwittingly spread the new strain.
We know that the new variant is more easily transmissible, making social interaction even more dangerous than it was last year. We know that the vaccine is coming, but it is likely to be a year before we all have the opportunity to be vaccinated. We also know that a good number of people will refuse to be vaccinated for ideological reasons.
All we have right now is to continue to minimize unnecessary social contact, maintain good hand hygiene and wear masks. We all need to play our part.
In good news, a recent study shows the efficacy of mask wearing. You can find the study here. The key takeaway is that the more people who wear better quality, well-fitting masks, the lower the transmission rate. Bear in mind though that wearing a mask below your nose is like using a condom with holes in it – it is a bit pointless!
It is hard to start the new year with the knowledge that the latest lockdown regulations will continue for at least another month. We need to be vigilant now to flatten the curve of the second wave. It is tough, none of us want this. But it is what is required.