[imagesource: Roger Sedres/ Gallo Images via Getty Images]
These days, it seems like everyone is an expert on how, why, and when to end the national lockdown.
Some people actually are experts, though, like Prof Shabir Madhi, of Wits University, who heads the public health subcommittee advising President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet.
Speaking during a webinar yesterday, Madhi said that over the course of the next two or three years, South Africa can expect up to 45 000 deaths from COVID-19, and intermittent lockdowns that last for that same duration.
Reporting below via TimesLIVE:
Madhi said new information showed that between 50 and 80 times more people are infected than we thought, but they are asymptomatic. This, in turn, showed that the mortality rate would be lower than expected.
“The only information we had in the early days from China was that a vast majority would be symptomatic,” Madhi said.
“Based on that modelling, we felt at least 120,000 would die in SA because of Covid-19.”
Since then, studies in the US, China and Iceland have shown that at least 50% of infected people are asymptomatic and that “changes the numbers completely”.
Madhi said the estimate of between 120,000 and 150,000 deaths has been revised to 45,000, “a huge jump down”.
Those deaths, Madhi said, wouldn’t take place “in a single wave”, but would occur over during the entire period of intermittent lockdowns, during which various epidemics would break out.
Before you compare that death toll to the flu, read this, and then remember that the death toll Madhi cites is only that ‘low’ because of the actions we have taken, and will continue to take, to fight the spread of the virus.
The professor said the upcoming winter months will be the worst, and that rules round mass gatherings and physical distancing would need to remain in place.
He said the new information had “huge implications in terms of quantifying the number of infections” and also had implications for lockdown.
Lockdowns would need to be “strategically phased out”, he said, adding that those most at risk – for example the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory issues and diabetes – would need to continue isolating themselves even as others returned to work.
Those solutions above echo the solutions we touched on yesterday, as well as the idea that we will have repeated lockdowns going forward.
One of the central arguments to ending the lockdown as soon as is safe to do so revolves around the health of our economy, and the needs of many South Africans to get back to earning a living.
Economist Prof Danie Meyer laid out a number of economic scenarios two weeks ago, but the nature of the coronavirus is such that things can change in a matter of days.
Writing for Biznews, Clem Sunter, a scenario planner and strategist, has outlined four scenarios of what the near future could hold for South Africans.
Without going into too much detail, here are the first three.
Much ado about nothing
All the medical flags which have gone up over the last month indicate that this scenario can almost certainly be discarded as a way of interpreting the past and the future of the pandemic.
The rise in the number of deaths by a factor of 55 in such a short period, and the fact that the public health systems of some of the richest nations on Earth have been completely overwhelmed, indicate the sheer scale and suddenness of the current disease.
The camel’s straw
…the coronavirus does not have to kill millions of people to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The global economy was already vulnerable before the pandemic began, with slower economic growth in China and the ongoing trade spat between the two biggest economies in the world, America and China. All that was required, therefore, was a small disruption to make the global economy collapse like it did in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The third scenario of a repeat of the Spanish flu of the last century, which killed 3 to 5% of the world’s population, will remain in play until a vaccine is found. As already indicated, the coronavirus is unlikely just to melt away even with prolonged restrictions on human movement.
His fourth scenario looks like it could be the most likely, and has been dubbed the tightrope:
…which is all about a delicate balancing act between preserving lives and livelihoods. The most important decision for any country to make is when and how to lift the restrictions in place by balancing the best medical models on the potential evolution of the pandemic against the need to revive the economy…
Furthermore, given that the spread of the virus has been uneven, different parts of a country may need different approaches and time lines…
As life begins to attain a new normal – it will never return to the old one – it will be up to businesses, families and individuals to walk the same tightrope in their daily activities. Judgements on what constitutes sensible social distancing measures will be at the heart of everything we do until an effective vaccine is discovered and universally distributed.
Everybody basically has a great excuse to avoid any social obligations they’re not keen on for the next few years. Introverts, rejoice.
Regarding different approaches in different parts of the country, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, did say yesterday that areas worst hit by COVID-19 infections – Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – could experience a hard lockdown when this measure is phased out elsewhere
You can read more on that here.
We really are in this for the long haul, folks.
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