A third of SA's Covid-19 survivors may be at risk of reinfection, warns Discovery

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Mobility data shows that the peak in mobility was much lower during the 2021 Easter period compared to the 2020 festive holiday period REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Mobility data shows that the peak in mobility was much lower during the 2021 Easter period compared to the 2020 festive holiday period REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
  • Discovery Health CEO Ryan Noach says more than 55% of people in South Africa may have been infected with Covid-19 already. 
  • This estimate is based on antibody testing done by universities and blood banks in the country.
  • Noach said this may mean SA is quickly moving towards herd immunity.
  • But the relatively risk of reinfection may undermine this.

More than 55% of people in South Africa may have been infected with Covid-19 already. This according to Discovery Health CEO Ryan Noach, who addressed the PSG Group's annual conference this week. This estimate is based on antibody testing done by universities and blood banks in the country.

Noach said they are finding "outstandingly high" antibody levels among South Africans. 

"This may mean - if in fact 55% of South Africans have been infected - that we are moving quite quickly towards herd immunity, and herd immunity will protect us as the population against another wave," he said.

But this may be undermined by the risk of reinfection.

Noach said Discovery Health's data show around a third of Covid-19 survivors are at risk of reinfection, which threatens the whole concept of a herd community.

"We've seen one out of three people who had Covid-19 in the first wave being susceptible to reinfection in the second wave," he said.

South Africa had been expecting a third wave of Covid-19 infections since the Easter season in April. But this may has been avoided, given that South Africans remained at home during that time.  

Google's so-called mobility data, which tracks South Africans' movements, show that the peak in mobility was much lower during the 2021 Easter period compared to the 2020 festive holiday period, where the huge spike in travel contributed to a more severe second wave of infections between December and January.

"People seem to have heeded the advice, taken precautions, and mobility was lower than during the December period. This hopefully bodes well for a lower chance of a third wave approaching us any time soon," he said.

Although Noach's presentation was prerecorded before news of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in India this week became known, he said whether SA dodges or gets the third wave depended on whether the country continued to stick to this low-mobility trend.

Noach said South Africa should be "exercising and effecting extreme velocity" in vaccinating people in high-risk categories, and Discovery Health would have loved to be doing this "as fast as we possibly can".  

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