Less than a week ago, South Africa was warned that if the country recorded an average of more than 90 Covid-19 cases a day, the medical advice was to extend the lockdown again.
Since then the numbers have been higher than that figure, and on Saturday night health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced the biggest single increase: a case jump of 251, from 2,783 to 3,034.
However, Mkhize said this didn’t necessarily mean the lockdown was going to be extended. Instead, he said, it was important to break down the numbers.
He said the benchmark figure of between 45 and 90 cases daily, cited by Prof Salim Abdool Karim, who is leading a ministerial advisory committee, was based on the number of people presenting themselves for testing, and not those who had tested positive based on government’s recently launched screening and testing programmes.
“The indications are the figure they were looking at works on the basis of a statistical range. In this case, they were talking about 45 to about 89. As they were analysing the figures that were coming in, they were of the view that the figures – I think the past few days they were looking at figures of about 90 or 95, depending on the day – were still within the broad range.
“If you look at the figures 45 to 89, the difference between that and a figure of 50 to above 100 is a statistical issue where they feel the difference is not too wide.
“The tests being analysed take into account that you’re no longer dealing with exactly the same cohort, or maybe not the same type of patient. The patients we were analysing went and presented themselves to the [health] facilities. But once you bring in an element of going look for people out there, then it changes things a bit.
“In that way, therefore, they [the advisory committee] felt there is not a huge indication of a big change [in number of passive cases] at that point,” he said.
“At the moment, the expectation for a huge increase [in cases] has not materialised up to this week, based on the fact that the number of people we are seeing are not quite the same as those went to our services earlier.”
Mkhize was asked whether this was the main element taken into account when a lockdown extension was discussed.
He responded it was not his place to “make speculations”.
“All sorts of issues are being taken into account. There isn’t just one factor to consider. I think what brought us here [to the lockdown] was how do we reduce the rate of spread, how do we contain the virus? That will always be among the factors we have to take into account.
“How do we make the sure the economy continues to function? How do you make sure you reduce hunger, starvation? How do you make sure you create a new culture of behaviour in such a way that prevention of infection becomes a sustainable kind of conduct?
“It’s a whole combination of issues we have to take into account, and there isn’t one factor more important than the others. At the end of the day we must be able to contain the virus and still make sure our people are able to survive in an economy that will enable all to make an income and have food security.
“It’s going to be a balance of a number of factors,” said Mkhize.
BY: MATTHEW SAVIDES