Don't worry about a Second Wave (for now)

Jeremy Gordin on the two important differences between SA and Europe

Shall we talk today about the assault trial at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court of the EFF’s Julius Malema and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi?

There, notwithstanding his hue, Laurence Hodes SC is proving that he can get into the EFF spirit as fully as anyone, by trying to bully the complainant, Lt.-col. Johannes Venter. Anyway, the case is now postponed to March 9. End for four months of the free (chicken) snacks at, or free bus trips to, this venue for the EFF faithful.

Or what about today’s shock-horror revelation from deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo that about 25 years ago, he had a relationship with a woman, and that, as sometimes happens when one has relationships, a child was born? Unbeknown to anybody at the time, and many years after the relationship had ended [sic], the woman’s sister [sic], Thobeka Madiba, married former President Jacob Zuma.

On this basis, Zuma wants Zondo to recuse himself etc. from the commission. Poor Gedleyihlekisa, to grab at straws like that, he must really be nippon strauce.

Nope, we need to deal with another Heffalump in the room.

Talking a week ago from quarantine (he tested positive for Covid-19), health minister Zweli Mkhize warned us of a possible “Covid second wave,” the number of infections having continued to rise – 2000 new cases were recorded on October 22, said the minister.

Then, on October 27, President Frogboiler, with uncharacteristic sauciness and determination, flatly dismissed speculation that there are plans to return the country to a hard lockdown. “If it ever gets there, I will be the one to advise the nation where we are and where we are going. For now, all we need do is to adhere to our preventive measures,” he said.

However, bearing in mind Claud Cockburn’s famous warning – “Believe nothing until it has been officially denied” – Mkhize’s words, and those of Sihle Zikalala (premier of KwaZulu Natal, last outpost of the Zuma empire), were a bit anxiety-provoking. And this being Seffrica, the second wave anxiety has taken off like wildfire. All the usual suspects are debating the issue full tilt. And this has been heavily influenced by the media coverage of panicked governments in France, German, the UK, and numerous other places having to deal with second waves of infections that are currently running through their populations. The question rattling around our collective lizard brain is simply that if all these first world states are locking down again, shouldn’t we start preparing to do the same as well?

Our own Professor Shabir Mahdi - for whom I have a great deal of respect though I wish he’d smile more – has suggested to Sky News that our initial hard lockdown was a total failure. Virologist Dr Marvin Hsiao supported him in this assessment. The two suggest that strict level five lockdown, imposed in March, worked inadvertently to kickstart a massive wave of infection. In packed townships, residents were forced to queue for essentials like food and social security payments, creating what Dr Hsiao described as “new networks for the spread of the disease”. Social distancing was practically impossible in places where 20 or more people live at close quarters.

In his statement Mkhize noted that (on October 22) our death toll had reached 18 843. According to my learned friends at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), in whom for some reason I have greater trust than in the ministry of health, the figure of excess, “natural” deaths from 6 May to 20 October was 47,923. So the true Covid-19 death toll is probably closer to 50 000 than it is to 20 000.

Mahdi is arguing that the failure of our initial hard lockdown has, quite probably, stimulated a level of [collective or herd] immunity in approximately 12 to 15 million people.

“What has happened in SA today,” he said, “the only way to explain it, the only plausible way to explain it, is that some sort of herd immunity has been reached when combined with the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions... like the wearing of masks, physical distancing, ensuring ventilation when indoors and so on.”

Dr Hsiao added: “Inexplicably, the numbers (of those infected with Covid-19) started dropping off at the end of July, and at the time I couldn't explain why. But when we analysed the data it became clear, this immunity within the population level (linked to) the big surge infections is probably the main reason why we’ve seen the decrease of numbers of infected.”

“[The] inadequacy in terms of adherence [to] the lockdown, where inadvertently we’ve had transmission taking place, has resulted in a high percentage in densely populated areas becoming immune,” Mahdi said.

In short, Dr Mahdi and Dr Hsiao suggested the lockdown's failure to suppress COVID-19 provided the country with the unintended benefit of some level of immunization for millions of South Africans. Australia and New Zealand were far more successful at keeping out the disease, but at the cost of continually having to keep themselves largely isolated from the rest of the world.

The next point is that Covid-19 contagion is clearly highly seasonal, at least in the temperate regions of the globe. In northern Europe and America the disease first arrived in late winter, and briefly surged, before dissipating with the onset of spring. It has returned with a vengeance with the onset of Autumn.

In South Africa, by contrast, the disease has gone through an entire winter cycle, thankfully without completely overwhelming our hospitals. We are now entering our warm summer season. Europe and America, by contrast, are now entering into their long, dark and cold winter, where the population are vitamin-D deprived, the virus is highly contagious, and everyone is huddled indoors.

So, we Seffricans are actually in a good position right now – it is summer, and substantial herd immunity has built up over the winter due to the failed lockdown. Though the infection numbers may be ticking up, there isn’t going to be a second wave of the type we are witnessing in Europe – not anyway until the onset of next winter, April-May.

All the authorities need to do – if they’re able to do anything – is to keep sensible social distancing rules in place and prevent super-spreader events, such as Halloween shindigs on which our younger folk are keen.

Avoid groups, wash your hands, socialize outdoors, wear your masks, take care of the elderly and vulnerable (like me), don’t let the latest budget what-what upset you or your dog, and maybe, for safety’s sake, lest you-know-who think they have an opportunity to be silly again, stock up on some booze and tobacco.

You never know – and no one else does either.