Devastating Delta variant: Data shows how Covid-19 strain is wreaking havoc, especially in Gauteng

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  • Key metrics used to track the spread and impact of Covid-19 show why the country is being warned to adhere to increased restrictions, including an alcohol sales ban, for 14 days.
  • In Gauteng, the second resurgence or third wave has already seen cases of Covid-19 reported at nearly double the rate seen at the peak of the first two waves. On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a grim warning and called the Delta variant "devastating".
  • South Africa is in "the grip of a devastating" second resurgence or third wave of Covid-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, which could eclipse the previous two waves.


Addressing the nation on Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced increased lockdown restrictions, including another ban on the sale of alcohol and sit-in dining at restaurants, for the next 14 days and expressed uncertainty about the potential duration and severity of the country's third wave of Covid-19 infections.

The need to act, he said, was informed by scientific advice, following the announcement on Saturday that the Delta variant – a more transmissible mutation of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – had been found in five provinces already: Gauteng; KwaZulu-Natal; the Eastern Cape; the Free State; and the Western Cape. 

"We must all be worried about what we are seeing unfold before our very eyes," he said. 

He added:

Gauteng now accounts for more than 60% of new cases in the country. With the exception of the Northern Cape and Free State, infections are rising rapidly in all other provinces.

"We are in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications, seems like it will be worse than those that preceded it," he said. "We don't know how long this [wave] will last, but indications are that it could last longer."

READ | Lockdown: Ramaphosa places the country under alert Level 4

In Gauteng, where the third wave has already surpassed peak infection rates seen previously, the situation is particularly dire and hospitals are under severe strain as they try to keep up with a soaring demand for ICU beds and oxygen.

The province has already recorded its third deadliest week on record since the Covid-19 local epidemic began, with more than 3 000 deaths from natural causes for the week ending 19 June, according to estimates prepared by researchers at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the University of Cape Town (UCT).

In response to the threat posed by the Delta variant, which is estimated to be 60% more transmissible than previous variants, Ramaphosa announced the following additional restrictions for the next two weeks:

  • There will be a ban on all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including political, religious, cultural and social gatherings. 
  • Public parks and beaches will remain open, but no gatherings will be allowed. 
  • No alcohol can be sold for on-site and off-site consumption.
  • Leisure travel in and out of Gauteng will not be allowed but travel for work, business or commercial reasons will continue. 
  • Visits to old-age homes and care facilities will be restricted.
  • Restaurants and other eateries are only allowed to sell take-away food or delivery orders.
  • The closure of schools and other educational institutions for the winter holidays will be brought forward. Schools are expected to start closing on Wednesday. 

"[The] third wave is gathering in strength and force. Once again, we find ourselves at a defining moment in our fight against this disease," he said.

Ramaphosa added that the restrictions would be reviewed on 11 July. 

Severity

Key data metrics show that the Delta variant is already causing infections to surge beyond what was previously seen. The variant, which was first discovered in India in October 2020, has been found to be 60% more transmissible than previous variants. Early data showed that children were more likely to become infected with the variant. Data in countries where the Delta variant had already become dominant, such as the UK, showed that the variant might not cause more severe disease.

READ | IN FULL: 'We're in the grip of a devastating wave' - Ramaphosa's dire warning as SA moves to Level 4

The increased transmissibility of the variant is already a major cause for concern in Gauteng, where the average number of cases reported daily for the past seven days has risen above 9 500 new cases per day - almost double the number of daily cases seen at the peak of the first and second waves. 

coronavirus

Further clues to the rapid increase in cases potentially driven by the Delta variant can be found in National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) data on the proportion of tests that return positive results.

When visualised in a graph showing weekly percentages of positive tests compared to the outright number of tests weekly, it is clear that testing continued apace after the second wave with a sharp surge in positivity rates, followed by increases in the number of tests done as the demand grew. 

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While the government has reported almost 60 000 official Covid-19 deaths, research by the SAMRC's Burden of Disease Research Unit (BDRU) and UCT's Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe) shows that an estimated 173 000 excess natural deaths have occurred in the country since the Covid-19 outbreak began. 

coronavirus

Excess deaths are calculated using an expected baseline, created with the use of data on deaths seen in the years before the virus existed. The BDRU and CARe team uses data on deaths as they are reported to the Department of Home Affairs. 

This includes the reported Covid-19 deaths. The researchers estimated that 80% of the natural excess deaths they have found could be linked to Covid-19. The researchers publish a weekly report to show their updated estimates, and last week found that natural deaths in Gauteng had exceeded the expected baseline by almost double. 

The research is key evidence that the official, reported number of Covid-19 deaths could be under reporting the true impact of the local Covid-19 epidemic. To support this, the BDRU's vastly experienced Professor Debbie Bradshaw, has pointed to the correlation between the timing and location of excess deaths and surges in Covid-19 cases. News24 has previously reported that this correlation is particularly noticeable when cases are mapped over time with the estimations of excess deaths – as cases increase, an increase in natural deaths follow. 

coronavirus

Ramaphosa pointed out that vaccines, such as the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer jabs, offer protection against the Delta variant and emphasised the importance of the country's, vaccine rollout, which has been slow. 

The graph below includes people who have only received one of their two Pfizer doses and who are not yet fully protected against the Delta variant.

Research published by Public Health England recently showed that people who had one dose of a vaccine were 75% less likely to be hospitalised, compared to unvaccinated people, and that those who receives two doses or who were fully vaccinated with a single-dose vaccine, were 94% less likely to be hospitalised.

READ | Ramaphosa announces fourth alcohol ban as SA heads into Level 4 lockdown 

As of Sunday night, more than 11 400 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised around the country of which 56% were in Gauteng. The NICD reported that of the 11 400 people, 2 700 were in ICU or High Care, 3 806 people were on oxygen and 1 038 were on ventilators.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health reported on Sunday that 2 289 people were vaccinated on Saturday. Over the past week, an average of 77 000 vaccines were administered daily. 

coronavirus


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