Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

SA’s second wave of Covid-19 infections, which has already far outpaced its first, could be driven even higher by post-Christmas holiday homecoming and overcrowded funerals, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Monday.

SA has recorded 1.34-million cases of Covid-19 and about 37,000 deaths. Daily new cases, which surged to a record high of 21,000 earlier in January, have since fallen to just over 12,000 a day — around the level of its first-wave peak back in July.

The pandemic and lockdowns to tackle it have damaged an economy that was already in recession and left millions dependent on food aid.

“We are worried that there will be a resurgence,” Mkhize said in a televised address to media in KwaZulu-Natal, where he was visiting hospitals.

The second wave has been driven by a new coronavirus variant first discovered in the Eastern Cape, called 501Y.V2, and believed to be more contagious than earlier versions.

People would be returning to Gauteng after the holidays and it was feared that would lead to a huge resurgence, Mkhize said. 

He said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s tougher lockdown restrictions, announced at the end of December and including an alcohol ban, had helped contain the spread.

But he warned that funerals, which are traditionally attended by big crowds, had become super-spreader events.

“We still get reports of … funerals attended by a large number of people” instead of the 50 they were limited to by Covid-19 regulations.

A brighter spot was the Western Cape, including Cape Town, where the first wave is thought to have started and which had seen numbers level for weeks.

“We are hoping that what we are seeing now is indications that it’s going to start declining,” Mkhize said.

He said the procurement of vaccines was going according to plan. SA plans to start vaccinating health workers in February, but analysts doubt it will be able to vaccinate significant numbers until much later in the year, given how slow it has been in signing deals to get vaccine doses.


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