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COVID-19 has not gone yet

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With winter behind us and spring in the air, it appears as if the community is dropping its guard and behaving as if the coronavirus pandemic is over. But data on a global scale shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is a sense that things are almost back to normal. The sun is shining and the worst appears to be over. But is it?

As restaurants, pavement cafés, and bars fill up; shuls have reopened; traffic has resumed its normal flow; and people have emerged from their COVID-19 cocoons to go about the business of living. However, behaviour will determine whether or not we have a second wave. So, is it ok for people to let down their collective guard?

According to Professor Lucille Blumberg, deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID), no, it’s not ok.

“It’s not over. The numbers of cases are down, but there is less testing so I’m not sure it’s a true picture,” she said. “Hospital admissions are down, and the curve is downwards, but there is still a significant number of new cases every day. There are severe admissions and there is death. There is still transmission within the community.”

She advises people to be cautious, especially those with risk factors like obesity and diabetes and those in contact with people who are at risk.

Getting back to a ‘new normal’ following the easing of lockdown restrictions has left many divided. There are those who are continuing to live in lockdown as if there has been no dropping to level two, rarely leaving their homes. And then there are those who are embracing level two, desperate to return to some semblance of normal life.

“We all need to interact socially, because the psychosocial issues are huge, but there needs to be balance and care needs to be taken,” says Blumberg. “There is the perception that it is safe to gather in groups at the homes of friends and family … you know them so you think you will be fine because how could they have COVID-19?”

However, she said a well-ventilated place, preferably outside, is better than being inside someone’s house where the windows might be closed and it’s difficult to socially distance.

According to Media Hack’s latest data on 31 August 2020, South Africa had the sixth highest number of total cases in the world behind the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, and Peru. There have been 628 259 confirmed cases and 14 263 deaths.

Cases of the disease are continuing to surge in many countries, while others which managed to suppress initial outbreaks are now seeing a rise in infections again. Spain is Europe’s coronavirus hotspot after recording more than 53 000 new COVID-19 cases in the last week. Since Spain eased its strict lockdown in late June, loose restrictions have been blamed for the resurgence.

Cases are also rising in Italy, Belgium, Greece, Germany and in Eastern Europe.

While some countries are reporting an increase in new cases every day, others are adapting to a ‘new normal’. The coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world, with almost 26 million confirmed cases in 188 countries. More than 860 000 people have lost their lives.

Africa has recorded more than a million confirmed cases, although the true extent of the pandemic on the continent is not known as testing rates are reported to be low, which could distort official estimates.

South Africa and Egypt have seen the largest recorded outbreaks so far, with South Africa being one of only eight countries in the world to record more than 600 000 confirmed cases.

The World Health Organization’s chief for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, warned last month that the coronavirus is a “tornado with a long tail”, and said rising case counts among young people could ultimately spread to more vulnerable older people – and cause an uptick in deaths.

Kluge said current evidence showed “school settings” have not been a “main contributor to the epidemic”, and pointed to growing evidence that children do play a role in transmission – but more often in social gatherings than at schools.

Principal of King David High School Linksfield, Lorraine Srage told the SA Jewish Reportthat the school has discouraged social gatherings. “From the beginning we have stressed and emphasised the importance of listening to the medical advice, no matter which level of lockdown we are in.

“Lockdown regulations have been relaxed mainly for economic reasons, and the school has discouraged social gatherings from the start,” says Srage.

“We have a responsibility to keep each other safe, and the school has instituted all protocols to keep our students and staff safe. Since the school is an extension of the home, we expect our parents and students to maintain strict protocols outside of school as well.”

While news about the coronavirus is still evolving, doctors say the best advice is to follow public health directives and take care of yourself.

The most vulnerable people are those over 60 and those with identified co-morbidities, most notably obesity, diabetes, hypertension, chronic organ problems, and those on immunosuppressant therapy, says Blumberg.

Doctors caution that, until an effective vaccine against COVID-19 is available, people should continue to do the hard, albeit tedious, work of keeping themselves safe and healthy – by wearing facial coverings (masks), keeping social distance, practising good hand hygiene, and staying home when sick.

Scientists and public health officials are racing to find answers to key questions on how the disease is transmitted and why some cases are more severe than others, while they investigate treatments and a potential vaccine.

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