It’s the news no one wanted but have feared to be the reality for some time. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said in no uncertain terms on Wednesday 12 May that South Africa is indeed staring down the barrel of the third wave of COVID-19 infections, with positive cases reporting at an exponential rate.
Mkhize announced this unfortunate news in a widely-shared communication circulated with colleagues in government on Wednesday, and said that it’s time for various agencies of the State to galvanise to once again prepare measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned provinces that the country is currently in the third wave of Covid-19.
In communication that was widely distributed on Wednesday, Mkhize said: "Kindly note that the Covid-19 positive cases are rising rapidly. For all intents and purposes, we are in third-wave even if not fitting in technical definition. The numbers will no longer go down other than if we start intensive containment measures."
He encouraged provinces to intensify response programmes.
"We need to meet frequently to see how to support each other. Contact tracing and quarantine is the mainstay of our response. It is NOW and NOT LATER."
In the latest statistics sent to Mkhize, and seen by News24, the country recorded 2 759 new cases as of Wednesday.
The country recorded 1 548 new cases and 71 deaths on Tuesday.
— Department of Health (@HealthZA) May 11, 2021
Cases in the country have been rapidly increasing with the Free State confirming last week that they were already in the third wave of Covid-19. Gauteng said that, according to its modelling data, a third wave would hit the province in a few weeks from now.
Government scientists who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Mkhize's message with regard to the rising positivity rate – the number of Covid-19 tests done that return a positive result – which has been described as the most reliable early warning metric to track the next wave of infections.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, in a previous advisory, set out that a new wave would be declared if the seven-day moving average of new cases gets above 30% of the average at the peak of the previous wave.
South Africa's second wave peaked in mid-January 2021, with a seven-day moving average of approximately 18 000 cases per day.
For a new wave to be declared nationally, the seven-day moving average of new daily cases would have to rise above 5 500 cases. According to reports by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the current daily average over the past seven days was approximately 1 600 cases per day.
However, according to the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium (SACMC) Epidemic Explorer Dashboard almost every single one of the 52 health districts in the country have triggered "Response" alerts. This alert is triggered when a district shows a 20% or higher increase in new cases compared to the previous seven-day period.
The latest NICD Weekly Covid-19 Testing Summary report, published on Friday, showed that the percentage of tests returning positive results increased to 6% for the week beginning 25 April – an increase from 5.3% the previous week (week beginning 18 April).
The percentage positive rate reported by the NICD in its weekly reports saw a small weekly increase since the first week in April where it was hovering between 4% and 5% for several weeks.
COVID-19 CASES INCREASE ACROSS SEVERAL DISTRICTS
Last week, a number of Districts across the country were earmarked as areas of concern by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) because there has been an appreciable rise in the 14-day average percent change.
At the time, Mkhize said that while some of the districts may have relatively low case numbers, the jump in the percentage of cases in the areas should be taken as a “serious warning.”
The districts listed below all experienced 20% increase in the average number of cases in the last two weeks:
Free State: Mangaung Metro, Fezile Dabi, Xhariep, Lejweleputswa
Gauteng: City of Joburg Metro, Sedibeng, Ekhurleni Metro, City of Tshwane Metro
KwaZulu-Natal: Ethekwini Metro
Limpopo: Capricorn, Mopani
Mpumalanga: Nkangala, Gert Sibande
North West: Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Bojanala Platinum
Northern Cape: Pixley Ka Seme, Zf Mgcawu, Frances Baard
Western Cape: Overberg