Covid-19: Gauteng govt worried about risk of Easter travel infections

Makhura addressed residents outside a local Methodist church and another group outside Atamelang Primary


Makhura addressed residents outside a local Methodist church and another group outside Atamelang Primary School.

  • The Gauteng government is bracing itself for a possible increase in Covid-19 infections linked to annual Easter travelling.
  • Premier David Makhura said there were no restrictions yet regarding Easter travel, but he appealed to people to continue being conscientious about protecting themselves and others.
  • A small increase in cases in the province has been detected for the first time in eight weeks.

The Gauteng government is bracing itself for a possible increase in Covid-19 infections linked to the annual Easter travelling in and out of the province.

At the same time, winter is approaching, and not enough people have been vaccinated to protect everybody.

“Post-Easter, I am telling you, we are going to have a lot more people who may be infected as a result of travel,” Gauteng Premier David Makhura said on Friday during a Covid-19 update.

READ | Covid-19: Western Cape govt ‘extremely worried’ Easter, Ramadan gatherings may cause another wave

He said that during last year’s Easter, people travelled, regardless of the restrictions in place at the time.

“It was part of the impact of Covid-19, it is just the stress, we are human,” he said.

Some of the travel was within the province to attend functions.

He said it should not be necessary to impose travel restrictions again, and he had noted at roadblocks in the province from January that most people were very conscientious about wearing their masks and keeping each other safe.

He said the second wave in Gauteng was linked to the return of people from the Rage festival in Durban, who mostly lived in the Tshwane region. 

He warned that transport nodes posed one of the greatest risks, as did being in crowded spaces.

Makhura said people should not drop their guard because of a vaccination programme that has started with health workers. 

He pointed out that other countries had a higher rate of vaccinations than South Africa, but they were still having outbreaks leading to mass closures. 

Dr Mary Kawonga, on the Premier’s advisory committee on Covid-19, said that Gauteng got off slightly lighter than coastal regions during the second wave of the virus, party because of the imposition of Lockdown Level 3 over the December holidays. 

READ | Lockdown: More booze sale hours, bigger gatherings allowed as SA goes to Level 1

Modelling by the SA Covid-19 Modelling Consortium showed that the first wave lasted for 80 days, and 201 664 cases and 3 354 deaths were recorded. In the post-wave trough there were 47 039 cases and 1 784 deaths. In the 50-day-long second wave, there were 135 192 cases and 3 436 deaths in a sharp increase and decline in a short period. 

The province considers itself in a “post-wave stage”, but the numbers of cases and deaths had not gone down to the level they were when the second wave started. 

There is an average of 3.1 hospital admissions out of 100 000 people in the past two weeks and the mortality level is at an average of 1.1 per 100 000 people.

An increase in cases was detected on 13 March, after eight weeks of a downward trend, but there had not been any alarming increases. 

Kawonga said that gatherings, and even gatherings in small households while people are more relaxed, are a risk.

“I think Covid-19 still has business with the people,” she said. 

READ | Covid-19: Ramaphosa, Mkhize get vaccine jabs

Kawonga said the impact could be less severe if people comply with “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as mask wearing, washing hands, and avoiding gatherings. 

Professor Bruce Mellado said at the moment Gauteng is in an equilibrium where numbers have stopped dropping, leaving the province highly exposed to a third wave. 

He said any trigger such a superspreader event could lead to a third wave.

The current hotspots in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and Tshwane do not pose a threat by themselves.

The province’s risk index is considered “below medium” but Sedibeng and the West Rand are still areas of concern, with a clear faster growth of cases in Emfuleni sub-district of Sedibeng.

In the meantime, 43 915 health care workers had been vaccinated in Gauteng by Thursday night. Gauteng is targeting 215 101 health care workers in this early vaccination phase.