Are we inching closer to the pre-pandemic normal?

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When will the pandemic end? (Getty Images)
When will the pandemic end? (Getty Images)

We throw the word pandemic around so casually now that it's difficult to imagine a time when we'll no longer need to use it. 

However, it certainly seems like that day is at least conceivable, especially in light of the Covid-19 regulations greenlit by the government in January

Focused mainly on schools, the new lockdown rules permit the return to full-time schooling without mandatory social distancing. 

Additionally, people with a positive Covid-19 test who do not present with symptoms no longer need to isolate as previously directed. Regulations also call for a reduced isolation period after a positive Covid-19 test. 

The updated regulations followed the Department of Health's report that South Africa had passed through its fourth wave, which proved milder than previous waves. 

More good news came when the president, during the 2022 state of the nation address, noted that we have entered "a new phase" and that the National State of Disaster might soon end.

Also read: Covid-19 learning losses: what South Africa's education system must focus on to recover

'Not designed for the general public'

While it may seem, at least on a national level, that we're beginning to inch closer to the pre-pandemic normal, local experts have cast a critical eye on the relaxed lockdown rules. 

Following the announcement of the new lockdown rules, Professor Mosa Moshabela, the University of KwaZulu-Natal's deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation, warned South Africans not to take the changes as a sign to return to normal. 

"We agree with the need for schools to open - but, at the same time, we have to make sure they go back in a safe way," says Professor Mosa Moshabela, the University of KwaZulu-Natal's deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation. 

Professor Moshabela believes that the updated lockdown rules are mainly in service of preserving the economy and "not designed for the general public". 

"It's really about making sure that there are enough people in the workforce... We also need to remember that children are not vaccinated," Moshabela told News24. 

'This will result in more infections'

Expressing their opinion about the relaxed Covid-19 protocol in schools, parents shared their approval of the government's decision to end rotational learning. 

However, many disagreed with following the rules regarding asymptomatic positive tests, at least where schools are concerned.

They said they would rather people isolate for the recommended time frame following an asymptomatic positive test.  

"It is best that people who test positive for Covid-19 stay at home with those who are affected because this will result in more infections," said mom Phumelela.

Many also disagreed with decreasing the isolation period to just one week. 

Mom Yonwaba said her concern is that not all parents have been vaccinated and that younger children are still not eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. 

"There is still a greater risk of infection and serious illness should social distancing and isolation stop," Yonwaba said. 

Also see: Would a longer school day help children catch up after the pandemic? Here's what the evidence says

Vaccine hesitancy is declining

According to the latest statistics, 42.68% of SA's adult population is fully vaccinated, and about 1.5 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

SA still has a way to go before the majority of the country is vaccinated; however, a local study shows that vaccine hesitancy is declining, especially among the 18-34 cohort. 

Local experts predict that vaccination for children between the ages of 5 and 11 may be approved before the end of the first half of 2022. 

Countries like the US, UK, Italy and Japan, to name a few, have already approved the use of the Covid-19 vaccine in children aged 5 to 11. 

From pandemic to endemic

Globally, experts say we are approaching a new era and that the buzzword endemic might soon become part of the latest 'normal'. 

"Endemicity was written into this virus," a St George's University of London virologist Dr Elisabetta Groppelli told the BBC

"We'll soon be in a situation where the virus is circulating, we will take care of people at risk, but for anybody else, we accept they will catch it - and your average person will be fine," Dr Groppelli predicts. 

While experts agree that Covid-19 may be shifting toward becoming an endemic illness, the World Health Organization's Maria Van Kerkhove has warned that this only signals that we have gained "control over this virus". 

"Endemic does not mean benign," she urges, adding that only when 70% of the world's population is vaccinated (a WHO goal) will we "be in a very, very different situation epidemiologically". 


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