Guest Column

OPINION: Difference between failure and success in containing Covid-19 lies with you

2020-04-21 13:41
The writer lauds Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the country's chief coronavirus scientist, but points out the crucial role all of us have to play. (Supplied)

The writer lauds Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the country's chief coronavirus scientist, but points out the crucial role all of us have to play. (Supplied)

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No matter what regulations and measures government and healthcare facilities put in place, it is up to the ordinary South African to adhere to the protocols, writes Yogan Pillay. 


For the first time, in a long time, the proudly South African spirit has been reignited - and we have Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and Professor Salim Abdool Karim to thank for that. 

Last week, the unmatchable duo and their team hosted a public engagement to deal with technical aspects relating to the country's Covid-19 response.

It is no surprise that their public engagement garnered high praises. 

The data informing Karim's detailed presentation showed that South Africa's efforts to flatten the curve have been nothing short of world-class. 

The current plateau in the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa can be attributed to the proven advantages of social distancing as the country entered its third week of a national lockdown. 

But experts have warned that ending the lockdown too early may result in an infection rate that the country would not be able to contain.  

Despite the slow increase in infections, South Africa is not immune to the worst of the pandemic.  

More than 3 000 positive cases have been identified and by today, 21 April, 58 people had died from the virus.  

The lockdown is merely buying us time to prepare and deal effectively when the worst of it does come. 

"Can SA escape the worst of this epidemic? Is the exponential spread avoidable? The answer is that it is very, very unlikely. Put simply: no, we cannot escape this epidemic," said Karim. 

"What we would hope for is that the number of new cases will steadily decline and will disappear and that's the end of the story. I'm sorry to tell you that's very unlikely."

South Africa could end the lockdown and continue as normal, but that would be putting about 55 million people at risk of contracting the virus. 

"As soon as the opportunity arises for this virus to spread, we are likely to see the exponential curve again,” said Karim. 

A partial lockdown for the elderly could be considered as world trends indicate those over 60 were fatal victims to the virus. 

The plan is to use the time gained from the lockdown wisely by increasing the testing, tracking and tracing measures across the country - with the help of 30 000 community health workers. 

In the meantime, the lockdown rules need to be adhered to strictly.  

Karim’s presentation indicated that Algeria is currently the most affected country on the continent with a case fatality of 15.31%. This translates to how many of those infected with Covid-19 will die as a result of it.  

Egypt, Morocco and Cameroon followed respectively with case fatality rates of 7.49%, 7.15% and 1.46%, while South Africa ranks fifth with a case fatality rate of 1.19%. 

Mkhize said that the pandemic behaves the same way all over the world, but it was up to communities to change their conduct to influence the eventual outcome. 

Therefore, no matter what regulations and measures government and healthcare facilities put in place, it is up to the ordinary South African to adhere to these protocols. 

That is where the difference between success and failure in containing the Covid-19 outbreak really lies.  

- Dr Yogan Pillay is the Deputy Director-General in the Department of Health. 

Read more on:    salim abdool karim  |  zweli mkhize  |  coronavirus  |  pandemic
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