Covid-19 case spike unlikely after elections - expert

By Time of article published Oct 18, 2021

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By Roland Mpofu and Amanda Maliba

Political activities around the local government elections on November 1 are unlikely to lead to a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections. That's according to Dr Harry Moultrie, a senior epidemiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

The NICD provides microbiology, virology, epidemiology, surveillance and public health research and training to support government’s response to communicable disease threats, such as the current pandemic.

“While there will likely be some cluster outbreaks associated with campaign activities related to the elections, it appears unlikely that this will result in a resurgence,” said Moultrie.

She said it's hard to tell when another wave will actually hit our shores.

“Resurgences are the result of the complex interplay of population-level behaviour, mandated restrictions, immune protection from prior infections, vaccination coverage and timing, and viral strains.

“In South Africa, the second and third waves were predominantly driven by the higher transmissibility of the Beta and Delta variants, with Covid-19 fatigue likely playing a smaller role. We can’t predict when new variants of concern will emerge, or their likely transmissibility or immune escape characteristics.”

Moultrie added that the recent relaxation of lockdown restrictions was appropriate, but people still needed to be cautious.

“Getting vaccinated, wearing masks properly to cover the nose, opting to gather in ventilated spaces, avoiding unnecessary gatherings, keeping a social distance of one meter or more, and washing hands regularly remain critical to limiting transmission,” she said.

However, Dr Angelique Coetzee, the chairperson of the SA Medical Association (SAMA) said they were expecting the fourth wave to land from mid-December or early 2022. She added that there was a possibility that the elections may well be a super-spreader event.

“It's all about behaviour, people going to vote, nightclubs, holidays, family gatherings, etc. And hence, our predictions, but we might also get it wrong,” she said.

Meanwhile, Prof. Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance said Covid-19 waves in the country seem to follow a fairly regular pattern, and the fourth wave can be expected in December, as it occurred last year.

“Models cannot predict the waves, as there are too many unknowns. But the waves may be driven by waning immunity from infections from prior waves and new variants.

“I would expect a December wave, due to waning immunity from mild infection. But the combination of past infection levels and vaccinations are expected to reduce the severity of illness and death. Of course, on the assumption that a new problematic variant doesn’t emerge.”

Van den Heever added that it will be relatively easy to manage the various election-related transmission risks.

Meanwhile, political analyst Sanusha Naidu believes that the ongoing election campaigns are completely disrespectful to people’s rights to a decent healthcare system, but put the various political parties' interests before those of the citizens.

“They are so stuck in the binary ways that they see themselves as bigger than the pandemic, because if it was not the case, you would not go out and put people at risk.

“What they don’t realise is that they are the real super-spreaders by putting their vested interests first before anyone else’s,” she said.

“The question that we should be asking is what impact does this have on the voter or the communities that are seen as potential areas for political parties to make an electoral footprint in or sustain their electoral footprint.

“And the problem is, we don’t know. It is the same thing, it is the shambles of the launch of the manifesto. You create this big super-spreader event and I think Covid-19 is going to come back and bite them.”

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