Covid-19: What the second wave really looks like

The Western Cape healthcare system is close to collapse, under the weight of a second wave of Covid-19 infections. Private hospitals have been turning patients away, into the public sector, where staff shortages are a serious challenge. The Western Cape Health Department says it needs to hire more than 1000 new nurses and workers are falling victim to the virus. South Africa has been in a Level 3 lockdown since 29 December in an effort to preserve resources in hospitals and flatten the curve of the surge in new cases. There has been much debate over the true number of Covid-19 infections and deaths. South Africa has had 1,127,759 reported Covid-19 cases and 30,524 deaths. – Melani Nathan

By Philip Rosenthal*

Philip Rosenthal

My prior predictions of the course of the epidemic month by month have been within about 5% of actual results. It appears many of the libertarian thinking groups such as PANDA, the Republicans and many in my own constituency are taking an ideological line which is not realistically linked to the data. Contrary to PANDA’s claims of no lockdown effect, the earlier lockdown did cut the growth rate from doubling every 6 days to doubling every 23 days. We are now on doubling every 10 days for the second wave. I have been in communication with an internationally senior actuary who disagrees with PANDA’s analysis. My death projections of over 100,000 nationally and over 10,000 in the Western Cape tend to coincide with those of the Western Cape department of health and the government which PANDA has been in denial of. We are now on approximately 10,000 deaths in the Western Cape (7,000 diagnosed and an estimated 40% undiagnosed based on excess deaths) and climbing. I read an article on their site calling this the ‘Covid cold’, which is trivialising.

I don’t agree with many of the governments management decisions on restrictions but we have a serious problem we have to face and manage as best we can balancing interests.

Read also: Ramaphosa: Africa has few options for Covid-19 vaccines

W. Cape Covid-19 death rate two and a half times June peak and may climb more

Updated graphs of Western Cape Covid-19 death rate below shows two and a half times the June peak and may still climb. Deaths are the most reliable statistic because bodies unlike diagnoses are not dependent on testing capacity or the number of hospital beds, which are now over capacity and cannot grow more. From the total ‘excess death’ stats for June we can deduce about 4/10 deaths were not diagnosed, so adjust the real figures up that proportion. The death stats showed an apparent flattening over Christmas, but this is likely due to lack of reporting over that time. The log scale of the trajectory makes a straight line from before Christmas, which shows it can still be going up at the same pace. That is scary. To avoid the over-compensation to rectify the under reporting over Christmas, I smoothed the data to 10 days instead of 7 days, but still gets a similar result of 50 deaths/day in June and 130/day now. We are now on 7,000 official Western Cape deaths and probably 10,000 if one factors deaths without diagnosis.

The data is smoothed to remedy reporting irregularities. For those who understand log scales, it shows exponential growth as a straight line, which makes it easier to see the trend. In the lower graph, the Covid-19 death rate is doubling every 10 days. With this death rate, it means either that around a million people in the Western Cape are currently infected with or carrying Covid-19, or it means that a higher proportion than expected is dying because there isn’t hospital capacity to care for them (based on 3 week infection period).

Have heard anecdotal stories of hospitals over capacity, people struggling to get a bed, sending sick people home and giving sick people timeshare on oxygen.

Read also: Covid-19 has ‘disproportionate impact’ on women in South Africa, says study

Gauteng 2nd wave is about a month behind Western Cape, Eastern Cape current and the other provinces probably 2 months behind.

  1. You do not want any of your loved ones to catch Covid-19 during this peak.
  2. Bulk vaccine rollout for vulnerable categories is due to start April 2021 in South Africa. It’s worth waiting.
  3. The Covid-19 medical denialist and anti-social restriction memes circulating on social media are really irresponsible in this context. Their multi-faceted sowing of doubt on medical science and restrictions (e.g. on masks & social distancing & lockdown) can all be rebutted, but they have momentum and tell people with emotional fatigue what they want to hear.
  4. Level 3 lockdown was to 14 January 2021. The graph is unfortunately not flattening yet and it will probably need to be extended. The scale of the peak is such that even if it starts to drop off now, it will take more than two weeks for the peak to come down even to the level it was in June.
  5. The sheer scale of this wave, probably means there won’t be another wave this big because those who are infected in this wave and recover will become a buffer to slow down the spread of the next. This motivates enduring hardship over the next few weeks to try flatten this peak.
  6. Please tell vulnerable households (diabetics, elderly, heart & lung conditions) to be extra careful next few weeks in Western and Eastern Cape and in Gauteng in late January onward. Please SHARE to make them AWARE.
  • Philip Rosenthal is the director of the public advocacy group, ChristianView Network.
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