Keep wearing your masks and respect social distancing, experts warn

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Masks and social distancing are still important in lockdown level 1
Masks and social distancing are still important in lockdown level 1
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The talk of a return to normal that’s come with lockdown level 1 is being misunderstood.

The normal we are returning to is a new normal, health minister Zweli Mkhize warns South Africans.

“Before we get the vaccine, we can't rest,” he tells eNCA.  

Medical experts echo similar sentiments, citing the current situation in European countries where cases seem to be on the rise again after many had managed to bring the virus under control.

France reported 13 498 new cases on Saturday, the highest figure it has recorded according to Euronews. The UK reported almost 4 000 new cases on Sunday and Italy almost 4 700 new cases on Friday.

READ MORE | Here’s what you need to know if you're returning to work as the lockdown eases

The current trends in Europe should serve as a warning to us, head of the Centre for HIV and STIs at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa, Adrian Pure tells Drum.

The current picture playing out in these countries is the result of eased lockdown restrictions when countries in the northern hemisphere headed into their spring and summer months, he says.

“With stepping down the lockdowns, there were larger numbers of people in contact and travelling, and a reduction in the application of the non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical distancing, wearing of masks and hand washing that have resulted in an increase in the numbers of cases.”

The notion that Covid-19 has been eradicated now that South Africa is heading into its warmer months is greatly misinformed, Pure says.

From what’s been observed in the northern hemisphere, he says the likely situation that will pan out if people suddenly abandon Covid-19 safety precautions is, “ongoing transmission and the potential for spikes, surges and clusters”.

“Physical distancing and masks are clearly the most important things, so stay outdoors and don’t crowd. If you are indoors, use a mask and don’t mingle,” says director of Ezintsha and deputy executive director of Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute, Professor Francois Venter.

READ MORE | More than half a million South Africans have now downloaded the Covid-19 tracing app

Testing will be crucial going forward, Pure says, and SA should consider additional methods.

“South Africa should look at the feasibility of, for example, using rapid antigen-based tests to increase testing.”

He’s in favour of the recently launched app to aid tracing and isolation, but says individuals also need to be responsible.

“The emphasis should be on the non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical distancing, wearing of cloth masks, ventilation, and avoiding super-spreader events. Outdoor events are less risky than indoor events.

“It is about managing the risks and adapting to continue normal activities while shielding those at risk.”

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