Coronavirus in South Africa: Relief, pride and the ‘new regular’

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South Africa, which had one in every of the world’s earliest and strictest lockdowns, is marking a big shift in its battle towards coronavirus, writes BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding.

It was hardly a “mission achieved” second.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa appeared appropriately dour, and sounded appropriately cautious, as he appeared on nationwide tv this week to warn of the risks of a second wave of infections and to induce the public towards stress-free their guard towards the virus.

And but the president’s key message was a easy, optimistic and spectacular reality.

“We have succeeded in overcoming the worst section of this epidemic,” he declared.

As the an infection fee right here sinks under an vital threshold of 1 new case per day per 100,000 individuals, South Africa is shifting – with reduction, and with some pride – into a brand new section.

What the president and his scientific advisers describe as “a brand new regular”.

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picture captionBusinesses are getting again to regular throughout the nation

With nearly all financial exercise resuming, the nation’s borders slowly opening, and one in every of the world’s earliest and strictest lockdowns ending, this looks like a big second – a chance to take inventory, even to rejoice, and to discover the ever-thorny problem of who, or what, ought to share most credit score for holding Covid-19.

“I had visions of Italy… that we’re not prepared, that we’ll get overwhelmed,” recalled Professor Salim Abdool Karim – chair of the authorities’s Covid-19 advisory panel and the public face of the scientific neighborhood – pondering again to March, and to what he and the authorities publicly warned was an oncoming viral “storm”.

Instead, only a few hospitals have been overwhelmed, and the official loss of life toll of some 15,000 is considerably decrease than even the most optimistic modelling predicted.

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picture captionLike prime US virus professional Anthony Fauci (L), Salim Kalim (R) has change into the face of his nation’s battle towards Covid-19

Speaking on an web hyperlink from his workplace in Durban, Prof Karim doesn’t disguise the reduction he feels.

But, like many scientists, his inclination is to not sit again and get pleasure from the excellent news, however quite to maintain probing and testing hypotheses in order to higher perceive each Covid-19, and South Africa’s response to it.

‘Bad epidemic’

There is loads of knowledge to wade via now.

Much of it contradictory. Or quite, a lot of it nonetheless needing to be put in correct context.

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picture captionVery few hospitals in South Africa have been overwhelmed by Covid-19 sufferers

Take South Africa’s lengthy battle towards HIV and tuberculosis.

New proof suggests TB sufferers are significantly susceptible to Covid-19.

But, on the flip aspect, the techniques put in place to deal with each pre-existing ailments, “assisted us and higher ready us to deal with Covid,” mentioned Prof Karim.

And whereas South Africa might have good motive to rejoice its successes, there’s loads to criticise too.

“We’ve had a fairly dangerous epidemic,” mentioned Prof Karim.

“At one stage we have been the fifth worst in the world. I would not name that one thing to be pleased with.

“I’d have been actually proud if we might been in a position to mitigate the impression to a a lot larger extent.”

You may have an interest in:

  • ‘My son died in a freezing South African hospital tent’

  • Inside South Africa’s ‘hospitals of horrors’
  • Deciding who lives and dies in a Cape Town township
  • South Africa’s poisonous relationship with alcohol

As we have reported right here in latest months, there have been cases of appalling mismanagement, alarming allegations of corruption, and some grave errors in dealing with the outbreak.

I’ll depart the financial impression of the lockdown – and the official debate, enriched by hindsight, about whether or not the authorities obtained the stability proper – to a different day.

Nine theories

But what of the causes for South Africa’s relative success in preventing the virus?

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picture captionAt the peak of the lockdown, South Africans weren’t in a position to purchase alcohol or cigarettes

Prof Karim has drawn up a listing of 9 elements, or hypotheses, which he applies not simply to South Africa, however to different international locations – not least on this continent – which seem to have been spared the worst.

  • His first level is under-reporting – a selected problem in much less developed nations
  • His second is under-testing due to restricted capability and assets
  • The third – excessive on many specialists’ lists – is demographics, and the youthful populations of many international locations in Africa
  • Next comes the problem of how the virus reached South Africa – by way of travellers who did not are inclined to mingle with the inhabitants at massive, enabling the authorities to stamp out the first wave of infections comparatively successfully
  • Fifth is the early lockdown carried out in South Africa, and in many different components of the continent
  • The sixth level – one I raised in a latest article – is the speculation of pre-existing immunity, due to prior publicity to the 4 widespread coronaviruses in circulation
  • Seventh is the potential impression of hotter temperatures
  • Eighth is the doable function of altitude on the virus
  • And ninth includes the phrase “stochastically” – a reference to the unpredictable manner this virus seems to unfold, and the issue of predicting when particular person an infection peaks are prone to arrive.

Nine theories. But true to kind, Prof Karim is just not absolutely satisfied by any of them, at the least not with out additional proof.

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picture captionChildren in South Africa now should put on face masks in lecture rooms

“I doubt that anybody of those is a serious contributor that explains the total distinction [of why some countries have done better than others],” he mentioned.

“Even in mixture, these wouldn’t clarify the bulk of the distinction we’re seeing. It stays intriguing to me.”

media captionThe coronavirus diagnostics equipment made in South Africa

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