- Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned that the risk of a second wave of infections remains.
- He says there has been a decrease in the number of infections, from as high of 12 000 a day to around 3 000.
- According to Mkhize, the impact of the nationwide lockdown could be one reason for this.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the Covid-19 surge has happened in numbers lower than originally postulated, but that the risk of a possible second wave of infections remains real.
"If we look at the current models, they had had to be revised several times but, on all those models, what has been said was that we'll have the surge at a bit of a lower level than what was originally postulated," said Mkhize on Friday.
He was speaking during a ceremony to welcome the first members of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) surge team sent to bolster South Africa's Covid-19 response.
"We have now been seeing a decreasing number of daily cases go from as high as 12 000 per day to around 3 000. And this is for the whole country, when there were some provinces that [on its own] would raise the numbers by… up to 6 000 in some instances per day," he said.
"[The decrease in infections] for us is good news. We have said we are optimistic but very cautious about it because we don’t know why this has happened."
According to Mkhize, the impact of the nationwide lockdown could be one reason for this.
He said, in addition to a decrease in infections, there had also been a reduction in the number of people getting tested.
Mkhize said he was assured by laboratory services that there were enough diagnostic kits for the tests and that there were no backlogs, with turnaround times from between 12 and 48 hours.
He said the need for the surge team had been questioned, as the country appeared to have passed its peak. But South Africa was still the country with the fifth highest number of positive cases in the world, Mkhize warned.
"We are only now considering easing some of the restrictions and we are still to cross that critical juncture of reopening of our borders," he said.
"Apart from the impact on the health system that this virus has had, we are still faced with the devastation it has caused in our social lives, our well being, the economy and the environment. With the threat of resurgence remaining very real, we would not want to repeat recent history witnessed in some countries and allow a second surge to wreak even further destruction."
The WHO has deployed 43 experts from various fields to support the country’s outbreak response management. They have key expertise in epidemiology, surveillance, case management, infection, prevention and control, procurement, community mobilization and health education.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said South Africa was the most affected country in the African region, accounting for more than 60% of all deaths and cases.
"However, we do know that things could have been much worse. The initial epidemiological models projected a much higher burden of cases and this has been averted, we believe, through the government’s quick and decisive actions which has helped to slow the spread of the virus and bought time to strengthen public health capacities throughout the country," she said.
WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus said, despite being the hardest hit in Africa, the government's "prompt and robust response" gave it reason for optimism as the increase in numbers slowed.
"But now is not the time to let our guard down," he said.
"We must focus our efforts on mitigating the long terms effects of the pandemic, including major disruptions to essential service, schooling… and livelihoods."