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Have relaxed lockdown restrictions helped lower Covid infections?

It would be a hard call to say this [heralds] a less restrictive lockdown in future, says Dr Jacques Snyman, a clinical risk expert and medical advisor at Health Squared medical scheme.

FIFI PETERS: We came across an interesting piece of information, an argument that is putting forward the case that perhaps the fact that we had very few lockdown restrictions in place as a country over the festive season could have contributed to the shortness of the fourth wave that was driven by the Omicron variant. That argument is according to medical scheme Health Squared.

We have the clinical risk expert and medical advisor from the medical scheme, Dr Jacques Snyman, joining the Market Update. Dr Jacques, thanks so much for your time. Just take us through this argument that fewer restrictions caused a shorter fourth wave.

DR JACQUES SNYMAN: Hi Fifi, thank you for the opportunity. This is just one of the speculations as to why we have seen a shorter [Covid] fourth wave. The peak was very high, with a lot of people getting infected at the time on a specific day. Yet the total duration of exposure during the fourth wave was significantly shorter.

There could have been a few factors playing a role. The variants of the virus, the rapid spread of the virus, the fact that the lockdown is perhaps modest and [less] restrictive than before, might have exposed a few more people and therefore it was sort of a shorter lived experience, purely because you get fewer people that you can infect. It spreads faster and therefore there’s a lack of suitable hosts to newly infect.

That is just one of the tiers that one uses to try and explain why the wave is shorter. But there are a lot of other factors that could have played a role as well.

FIFI PETERS: Just looking at the numbers and how this wave played out, would you say it is safe to say that the worst is over for us?

DR JACQUES SNYMAN: It looks like it. As I say, it’s always difficult to speculate, but it certainly looks like it. If we look at the infection rate that was published, the frequency and so on was very high at certain stages. Given the hospitalisation rate, it was not reciprocally high given the infection rate. So it’s seems as if there are a lot of factors playing a role. It could have been the vaccinations, it could have been herd immunity, it could have been a less virulent strain.

So we’ve seen a less aggressive disease leading to people being hospitalised, and those being hospitalised, [according to] what we picked up from our data, were mostly older people with comorbid conditions, as we’ve seen in other waves, but also more unvaccinated people in that particular cohort that we’ve looked at. Among those who were hospitalised the proportion of deaths was also significantly lower, if we look at the numbers in the previous waves. During the previous waves it was sitting around 20%-plus for hospitalised patients coming off the disease; it is now down to 10% or lower than that. So again, it’s pointing at either a good, effective protection [by] vaccination cohort, or existing immunity, whether because of a natural infection or vaccination or [……4:01.

FIFI PETERS: If we stick to the argument that softer lockdown restrictions on the country and the economy made a contribution to the length of the wave, what then should we or this government consider when approaching any future waves that may come, in terms of lockdowns?

DR JACQUES SNYMAN: It’s always [a case of ] having different scenarios and planning for those different scenarios. So, if you can anticipate that it’s a less virulent strain, it’s easier to say they’ve had a less tight lockdown scenario. This is a very virulent strain, it’s completely different from what we’ve had before and therefore we cannot assume some herd immunity.

It would be a hard call to say this [heralds] a less restrictive lockdown in future. There are a lot of factors that will influence a decision like that. The more data you have at the time of making a decision, the more accurate your decision can be. So, yes, if you have good information you can see the wave coming, you can see what it’s doing in other countries, and you can make a very nice informed decision.

If it starts within South Africa, then you sit with a lot of unknowns and it’s very difficult to make a decision of, say, ‘let’s have a softer lockdown’. It becomes almost a judgment call to say: ‘Let’s make a softer lockdown. I think there’s enough herd immunity, but let’s see what happens within the first two or three weeks. We are willing to change our opinion really quickly.’

FIFI PETERS: Right. Dr Jacques Snyman, we’ll leave it there, sir. Thanks much for your time. Dr Snyman is the clinical risk expert and medical advisor at Health Squared medical scheme.

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