WHO sees 23,600 Covid-19 deaths for South Africa

SA will have third highest toll in Africa, says world body

WHO Africa predicts that as many as 24-million South Africans could be infected with Covid-19.
Image: 123RF/ktsdesign

SA will experience the third highest toll in Africa from the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts.

A report by the WHO regional office for Africa, which models the potential effects of widespread community transmission of Covid-19 on the continent, predicts that as many as 24-million South Africans could be infected with the virus. About 20-million of these cases could be non-symptomatic.

The world body predicts that 23,661 people in SA could lose their lives to Covid-19.

The report outlines the worst-case scenario of transmission in Africa in the event that there are few to no successful interventions. It says community transmission could see 22% of the continental population of about a billion infected over the next year.

It identifies 10 countries with the highest risk of exposure – seven small nations plus the more populous countries of SA, Algeria and Cameroon.

In its scenario modelling, however, the WHO report says Nigeria will have the highest number of infections, followed by Algeria and then SA.

Nothing that Africa so far has been successful in averting the calamity seen on other continents, the WHO nonetheless warns that the worst could still unfold if containment measures are not strictly practised.

This week a consortium of modellers working with health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize also announced their projections for SA. They predict that at the peak of the virus – expected in July or August – about 1-million people in SA will be infected. By November, 12-million to 13-million will be infected but only about 3.7-million will be detected.

One of the authors of the WHO report, Dr Michel Yao – the programme manager for emergency response for the WHO’s Africa region – said SA is faring far better than some of its counterparts, particularly in the rate of testing, which remains a challenge in many countries on the continent.

As of Friday, SA had conducted 543,032 tests.

Yao said SA’s well-developed road infrastructure unfortunately enables the spread of the virus as people move around easily.

“This is not possible in other African countries with many rural areas where access is more difficult. These are the factors that were taken into account, and using also the possible spread of the disease, which we call the attack rate.”

Africa hit 100,000 confirmed cases on Friday, with SA – the highest total – accounting for more than 20,000 cases. As of Friday the continent had seen 3,000 reported deaths and 40,000 recoveries.

Unlike parts of the world that are able to absorb some of the economic loss brought about by efforts to contain the virus, Yao said, African countries are in a more precarious position.

“People who make their livelihoods by selling in the streets can no longer do that because of lockdown. But before easing the confinement measures, one of the first things is to analyse the trend. Where are the hot spots where the disease is spreading fast? This can guide the decision.

“Second is to have a continuous capacity detection, so that if you ease it you can continue to monitor and detect infections and if a situation worsens, then you take
appropriate measures by reversing back quickly to control it.

“Third is how do you ensure that you have capacity if you ease the lockdown and you suddenly have cases that need treatment? Have you put in place treatment capacity to deal with this?

“So the lockdown was to flatten the curve before reaching a wide immunisation within the community.”

Asked about the optimal time to ease lockdown regulations, Yao said: “It will take time.”

He added: “So when we talk about easing these confinement measures, we have to do it because people are suffering, but we have to ensure that we have put in place strong control measures to avoid falling into the scenario that we predict if something was not properly put in place.”

As for testing, Yao said: “The main challenge is accessing the kits from abroad. Unfortunately the demand is huge . because the virus is new, the testing materials were not readily available on the markets, so people have to manufacture them. The manufacturing capacity is increasing as many of the European countries are doing it, but the demand is high.

“So what we have done is to set up a consortium so all the partners . can help countries in terms of supply. We have pulled all these resources together and we are also trying to convince some of the manufacturers to allocate part of the production to Africa.”

SA, he said, is likely to be the only country in Africa able to make the kits.




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