Covid-19 | SA officially enters third wave

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A billboard on an apartment building in Cape Town's CBD in 2020. Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images
A billboard on an apartment building in Cape Town's CBD in 2020. Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images


South Africa is officially in the thick of a third wave of Covid-19 infections. The National Institute of Communicable Diseases announced on Thursday that the country had “technically entered the third wave today as the national seven-day moving average incidence (5 959) now exceeds the new wave threshold as defined by the ministerial advisory committee”.

A new wave is defined as 30% of the peak incidence of the previous wave.

The country recorded 9 149 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday – a 15.7% positivity rate. This marked the first time since mid-January that South Africa had recorded more than 9 000 infections. Gauteng continues to drive the third wave of infections, accounting for 5 597 of new daily cases.

A further 100 Covid-19-related deaths were also recorded.

As of Thursday, there were nearly 7 500 Covid-19 patients admitted at public and private hospitals across the country. Covid-19 hospital admissions were highest in Gauteng, with 3 575 patients.

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The country entered adjusted level 2 lockdown at the end of May in an effort to keep the third wave at bay.

The curfew was amended to between 11pm and 4am. According to the adjusted regulations, restaurants, bars and gyms close at 10pm to allow staff time to travel home; indoor gatherings have been reduced from 250 to 100, while outdoor events are limited to 250 people instead of 500 (or 50% of the venue capacity if the venue is too small); and funeral attendance is capped at 100 and services must not continue for longer than two hours.

Government and experts have long been sounding the alarm of a third wave, however, high levels of complacency have seen little to no enforcement of regulations including mask wearing and adequate social distancing.

Is SA ready for third wave?

Experts believe that the country is not ready to deal with another wave of infections, which already hit three provinces in May. At the time, Gauteng was in the initial phase of a third wave and hospitals in the Free State and the Northern Cape were already staggering under increased numbers of Covid-19 admissions.

Dr Cloete Jansen van Vuuren, head of internal medicine at 3 Military Hospital in Bloemfontein, said at the time that his experience was that Covid-19 patients who land up in hospitals now are more seriously ill and are younger than those from the first and second waves.

The Free State is under great pressure. All the hospitals are full and there is no room for patients.
Dr Cloete Jansen van Vuuren

He said while there was more than enough oxygen at hospitals, there was an acute shortage of beds equipped to provide oxygen and high-pressure oxygen to the sickest patients, as well as a shortage of dedicated nurses to monitor patients’ ventilation.

These were the same problems experienced during the second wave.

“A ventilator is a murder weapon in the wrong hands. You need 12 highly trained nurses per bed who are working in shifts and doctors who know what they are doing. The shortage of specialised nurses and doctors is a major problem with our current staff shortages.”

Oxygen shortages

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism analysed data from various organisations and determined that South Africa was one of 19 countries at greatest risk of a significant shortage of medical oxygen, City Press previously reported.

The data come from the Every Breath Counts Coalition, the NGO Path and the Clinton Heath Access Initiative.

Argentina, Colombia, Iran, Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan and Costa Rica are also on the list.

These countries need more than 50 000 cubic metres of medical oxygen per day to treat patients with Covid-19. The need for medical oxygen rose sharply between the middle of March and this month in the 19 countries.

Hospitals in Bloemfontein and elsewhere in the Free State have been full for the past two weeks. Patients with Covid-19 are sent home with oxygen. There are no beds available for people from the Northern Cape and elsewhere who want to come to Bloemfontein hospitals.


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