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‘SA Can’t Escape the Worst of this Epidemic’: Prof Salim Abdool Karim

Prominent epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who is advising government’s response to Covid-19, said on Monday night that while SA had done well to flatten the curve of new infections, there was still a likely spike in cases coming.

“Can SA escape the worst of this epidemic? Is the exponential spread avoidable? The answer is that it is very, very unlikely. Put simply: no, we cannot escape this epidemic,” he said.

He said that once the lockdown was ended — “and we are going to have to end it at some point” — then new cases were likely.

“What we would hope for is that the number of new cases will steadily decline and will disappear and that’s the end of the story. I’m sorry to tell that’s very unlikely. The more likely [scenario] is … that we’ve managed to stem community transmission. For once we end the lockdown … about 55 million people are vulnerable to this virus. As soon as the opportunity arises for this virus to spread, we are likely to see the exponential curve again,” said Karim.

However, he said SA had “gained time” to get hospitals and staff ready, actively track and find cases and, in the long term, have a vaccine ready.

“It’s an opportunity to get new treatments, new vaccines. And all of this needs time. Now, we are unlikely to get a treatment or a vaccine within the next few months — those things take years. And in our case we hope that maybe we’ll get it in a year or maybe 18 months.”

Karim was particularly concerned about the fact that flu season was right on the country’s doorstep, with winter just over a month away.

“Every year we have our flu in the winter. We all know that we get headaches or sneezing and our sore throats. And now we’re going to have to deal with everyone not knowing whether you have the flu or whether you have Covid-19, so we’re going have to deal with that.”

He said in addition to this was how the country was going to protect the elderly.

“In particular, those above 70, even those above 60 or 65. We’re really concerned with this thing about whether it’s going to be possible to have some kind of partial lockdown.”

He said the country could be prone to a “voluntary partial lockdown” until the end of September.

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Written by Mathew

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