“If you look at the bigger picture, we are over the worst.”
This is what Dr. Piet Streicher, an expert associated with Pandemic Data & Analysis, or Panda, on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
Panda’s forecasts and analyzes of the Covid-19 pandemic are increasingly enforcing authority, but often differ significantly from the picture the government paints.
“It is difficult to determine when the peak is or was, but if all the variables are taken into account – new positive cases that decrease, a decrease in hospital admissions and a decrease in the demand for high care beds – is the worst behind the back, ”says Streicher.
Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute (SRI), agrees.
“I think we can start with cautious optimism that we are currently at the peak, or just about that.”
Streicher says Panda’s short-term forecast for Covid-19 deaths at this stage stands at almost 15,000 by 31 August, is a significant difference from the 25,000 (optimistic) to 41,000 (pessimistic) deaths by 31 August as reflected in the government national Covid-19 Modeling Consortium (SACMC) forecast on 19 May.
Initially, between 80,000 and 350,000 deaths were predicted for the year and this forecast was later adjusted to between 40,000 and 50,000 deaths. In fact, not nearly as many deaths have been reported yet and by Friday, South Africa’s confirmed Covid-19 deaths stood at just over 9,600.
Streicher says Panda follows a different approach than the SACMC whose model is based on almost 20 variables. “This is a complex model and their predictions do not match the actual data.”
Panda’s model is based on only three variables and great emphasis is placed on the fact that the estimates must match real circumstances.
Streicher says diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis (TB) have ultimately not had such a large effect on Covid-19 deaths in South Africa. An eighty-year-old person has a 17 times greater chance of testing positive for Covid-19 and a thousand times greater chance of dying from Covid-19 than, for example, a ten-year-old, he explains.
“In terms of HIV and TB, your risk increases by a factor of two or three, but the diseases do not have the same effect on Covid-19 deaths as age.”
He says South Africa has far fewer elderly people than countries like Italy and that counts in South Africa’s favor.
According to Streicher, the so-called peak of the disease is a broad period and extends from 20 July to 14 August for South Africa as a whole. According to him, the Western Cape had already reached the peak of the disease on 24 June and while 52 deaths per day were reported in the province at that time, it has now decreased to about 30.
“The Eastern Cape went through its peak about two weeks ago and deaths there are now decreasing every day,” says Streicher.
Gauteng is currently going through the Covid-19 peak and deaths should start to decline significantly by Friday (August 14).
These provinces represent about 55% of the country’s population. The Free State and KwaZulu-Natal should reach their peak within the next few weeks and the other provinces will follow by the end of August and September.
Mulder believes South Africa was happy that the Western Cape was hit first. The province handled the pandemic very well, managed its capacity well and other provinces were able to learn valuable lessons from it. However, many other provinces do not seem to have the same capacity as the Western Cape to tackle the virus.
“The provinces that are in the ground in management, such as the Eastern Cape, will be hit the hardest. I also shudder at what can happen in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, ”says Mulder.
Rumors of a “second wave”
Streicher says the chances of a so-called second wave of Covid-19 hitting the country are unlikely and in a province like the Western Cape the possibility is “negligibly small”.
“The Western Cape will not get to a point again where 50 people die every day due to Covid-19.”
He says in that province, the virus has spread to almost every corner, meaning those who were most vulnerable to it – the elderly or those with underlying diseases – have already been exposed to Covid-19. This makes the pool of those who can contract the virus significantly smaller.
In countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where the disease did not initially spread as widely, the chances of a second outbreak are greater. Streicher also says in the US, where numerous new Covid-19 cases are being reported, it is now being reported in other states than before. Thus, although the country appears to be hit by a so-called second wave, it is new states to which the virus is spreading.