πŸ”’ How world sees SA: Township clues to low coronavirus death rate – BBC

As the continent’s rate of coronavirus infections began to rise in March, South Africa was expected to be amongst the hardest-hit countries in the world. Scientists speculated that the country’s population density, particularly in townships such as Alexandra, Soweto and Khayelitsha would be conducive to the spread of the virus. The crowded informal settlements would make it impossible for social distancing to happen, resulting in Covid-19 spreading quickly, preliminary forecasts stated. To date, scientists are still marvelling at how coronavirus has impacted South Africa as infections have surpassed the 600,000 mark and deaths stand at just under 15,000 – far fewer lives lost than anticipated. Researchers are probing a new theory, based on trials held in Johannesburg, which could provide more insight into why the country has not met Covid-related expectations of widespread infection and high death rates. They think we may have developed some type of resistance as a result of exposure to other viruses. – Bernice Maune.

By Bernice Maune

Scientists based at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Analytics unit, at Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, have discovered a possible reason why the coronavirus has not severely impacted the country as predicted when the virus first began spreading in the country.
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According to the BBC, frozen blood samples from an influenza trial in Soweto were scrutinised and found to have a level of immunity against a group of coronaviruses. However, the scientists were unable to conduct further tests on the blood samples as the temperatures of the building in which they were placed affected the quality.

Flu, virus immunity

Despite this development, the researchers led by Professor Shabir Madhi were able to explore the theory that millions of people living in townships may have a certain level of immunity against Covid-19 because they were continually exposed to various types of flu and viruses.

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“It’s a hypothesis. Some level of pre-existing cross-protective immunity… might explain why the epidemic didn’t unfold (the way it did in other parts of the world).
“The protection might be much more intense in highly populated areas, in African settings. It might explain why the majority (on the continent) have asymptomatic or mild infections.

Coronavirus numbers surprise medical specialists

“I can’t think of anything else that would explain the numbers of completely asymptomatic people we’re seeing. The numbers are completely unbelievable,” said Madhi.

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Other factors proposed for Africa’s rate of infection and fatality to be lower than Europe, the US and Asia, include age in view of the continent’s large percentage of a youthful population. In addition, the warmer weather has also been touted as a factor. While these conditions are yet to be proven, Madhi says that Africa so far has been an enigma. Further research could provide more understanding into how the pattern in South Africa has not matched predictions by politicians and health experts, he said.

Dr Zweli Mkhize, minister of health said the country wasn’t out of the woods just yet as global infections continued to rise.

Mkhize stated it is still too early to confirm what scientific studies have found and reiterated that government would slowly begin to open up more industries, including international travel.