[imagesource: Gallo Images/ Darren Stewart]
As much of South Africa readies itself for a drop to alert level 3, there is no avoiding the fact that we will experience outbreaks and hotspots across the country, and the coronavirus death toll will rise rapidly.
According to one projection, presented last night by the SA COVID-19 modelling consortium, consisting of scientists and experts advising the government, more than 40 000 people are expected to die by November.
That’s the optimistic projection, with a more pessimistic outlook seeing the number of deaths rise to as many as 48 000.
Of course, as with all models and projections that relate to an ever-changing situation, nothing is certain, but research teams around the world have been hard at work trying to figure out a so-called ‘golden cycle’ with regards to lockdowns.
One such team, the Global Dynamic Interventions Strategies for COVID-19 Collaborative Group, believes South Africa’s optimal strategy would involve 18 months of 50 days in strict lockdown, followed by 30 days of easing.
Global health epidemiologist Rajiv Chowdhury heads that team, reports TimesLIVE, and they mapped out thee different scenarios using data from 16 different countries, of which South Africa was one:
Chowdhury said the team found a continuous three-month lockdown would reduce new cases to near zero in most countries. But they would also experience significant job losses, financial insecurity and social disruption.
An alternative may be to alternate strict measures with intervals of relaxed social distancing, and the researchers wanted to work out the ideal frequency and duration of these interventions.
Said Chowdhury: “Our models predict that dynamic cycles of 50-day suppression followed by a 30-day relaxation are effective at lowering the number of deaths significantly for all countries throughout the 18-month period.
The 16 countries used in the scenarios ranged from high-income examples like Australia and Belgium through to low-income countries like Afghanistan and Uganda.
Chowdhury and his team admit there is no perfect answer or strategy, and each country will be forced to weigh up the danger of loss of life with the danger of economic collapse.
South Africa is listed as ‘upper-middle-income’ country, which I find strange, and the three different scenarios play out as follows, starting with imposing no lockdown measures from here on out:
The number of patients requiring treatment in intensive care units would quickly exceed the available capacity for every country. The pandemic would last about 200 days in SA but kill 172,416 people…
The it modelled a cycle of 50-day mitigation measures followed by a 30-day relaxing…In SA, this approach would lead to 79,091 deaths over 18 months.
The final scenario would reduce the R [reproductive rate] number to 0.5 and keep ICU demand within national capacity in all countries….the approach would lengthen the pandemic beyond 18 months. In SA, there would be 9,094 deaths.
The last scenario would really be a non-starter here in South Africa,
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said last night that the reproductive rate (Rt) of the virus in South Africa is between one and two in the Western Cape, but is closer to one in the rest of South Africa.
Reducing that to 0,5, as we ease restrictions, is not going to happen.
I doubt South Africans would be all that compliant with going back to a state of full lockdown for 50 days, either.
For the full list of the 16 countries, and how each reacts to the three different scenarios, head to TimesLIVE.
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