Travellers warned over high risk of rise in Covid-19 cases during festive season

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Professor Salim Abdool Karim.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

As we head towards the festive season, people are planning gatherings, family reunions, functions, reviving missed holidays and travelling across the country to be with loved ones.

But South Africa’s leading epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who is also co-chair of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, has cautioned that interprovincial holidaying may not be a good idea as it may increase the risk of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The probability of a second wave is increasing as more people stop using prevention and do not follow social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene.

“It is not possible to predict when the second wave will hit as it seems to vary from country to country. South Africa will be at a particularly high risk of a second wave when there is large scale movement for the summer holidays in December,” said the professor.

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He said travelling will increase the risk of infection as it increases exposure to others who may be infected — especially to those who are infectious but asymptomatic. People who are carriers of the virus but show no symptoms can still pass it on to others.

“If most people stick with prevention requirements, we can delay and even avoid a second wave. So, we need to embrace the ‘new normal’.

“It is imperative that we are diligent about observing the rules promoting prevention ...” he said.

Professor Abdool told Weekend Witness that as of Wednesday, globally there were over 40 million reported cases and over 1 million reported deaths. South Africa had over 700 000 reported cases and ranked 12th in the list of countries globally that are worst affected.

The number of new cases each day is about two to three cases per 100 000 population. “This is a low level of transmission but not low enough to contain the spread of the virus,” he said.

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“I remain optimistic that South Africans will behave responsibly, and in so doing, may prevent a second surge. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa faces a high risk of resurging Covid-19 infections that may force the country back into a stricter lockdown, after epidemiological reports showed that in the country, over the previous seven days, there was an increase of 9,1% in new cases. Similarly, over the previous 14 days, there was an increase of 10,7%.

Mkhize said this rise in cases will be considered by the Department of Health as it makes new recommendations to government’s National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) — the body that decides on lockdown levels.

The minister said that similar trends were seen in South Africa at the start of its pandemic, which quickly led to an increased burden on the healthcare sector.

Mkhize encouraged all provinces to pay attention to these increasing numbers and quickly mount a response, including contact tracing and quarantine.

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