Warning over imminent threat of third wave ahead of Easter holidays: NICD

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The National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) has warned that mass gatherings and social events over the Easter holidays are likely to cause a surge in COVID-19 cases, which may trigger the third wave.

Many South Africans have abandoned non-pharmaceutical interventions to prevent contracting COVID-19. Some have chosen to stop wearing masks at large family gatherings.  This comes as South Africa is falling behind on its vaccination targets.

Lockdown level one has left many South Africans with a sense of freedom from the COVID-19 restrictions.

A look through social media and in the public spaces, one would assume that lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

Organisations against the regulations

A number of organisations across the country have labelled lockdown regulations unjust. One of these is the Liberty Fighters Network. They have approached the Gauteng High Court to oppose all the regulations and the wearing of masks in particular.

The Network’s president, Reyno de Beer, is adamant that the country is not in a state of disaster and that there is no evidence to prove that masks prevent infection from COVID-19.

“We are challenging all lockdown regulations. We believe that there was never a disaster in the first place. What is so ridiculous about the whole thing is the forceful wearing of masks, they are so many people who cannot wear masks. There isn’t enough information out there to tell people that you must wash your mask regularly. What they are trying to do is not helping at all. I do not wear a mask, wherever I can skip wearing a mask, I take the opportunity. I don’t need it and it makes me claustrophobic.”

De  Beer  explains the organisation’s  reasons against the regulations: 

Disregard for regulations 

Under lockdown level one, many families have chosen to host weddings, birthday parties, and large-scale gatherings with no observance of social distancing.

With the Easter weekend approaching – celebrations and travel are likely to continue. Head of the Centre for HIV and STIs at the NICD, Professor Adrian Puren, says irresponsible behaviour will be detrimental to the country’s efforts to avert a third wave of infections.

“If we have people congregating with poor implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions, that means close contact, not wearing of masks, poor ventilation, that combination will lead to an uptake in cases. So, do you really need to travel, do you really need to have these types of cases, do you really need to have these numbers of people in close contact.”

SA’s vaccination programme 

While South Africa’s vaccination programme is well underway, Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the government will not achieve its target of vaccinating 1.5 million health-care workers by April. This is due to the lack of available vaccines.

The country also plans to vaccinate 14 million citizens by the end of the year. Professor Puren says if the third wave hits in June, as currently predicted, the country would have not vaccinated enough people to prevent the virus from spreading rapidly.

“We won’t reach herd immunity, as you know that magic number is 67%. We are nowhere close to that and I think it was predicted that we would have 1 million in the first phase, so we will really have to scale up quite dramatically to really protect the healthcare workers.”

Cancellation of  easter church service 

Meanwhile, Archbishop Daniel Mathe of the St. Johns Apostolic Faith Mission Church of South Africa, says with the imminent threat of the third wave after Easter, the church has decided to cancel their Good Friday service in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

What we are saying is that we cannot hold Easter because of this disease, it kills. It is very dangerous. That is why we have cancelled the Good Friday (service); we are only having the Sunday prayer.”

South Africa has recorded more than 1.5 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 52 000 deaths – a number expected to increase if social behaviour is not altered, especially heading into the Easter weekend.