Gaborone – Southern Africa should brace for a fresh wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in coming months, as scientists warn against premature relaxation of health protocols designed to control the spread of the new coronavirus.
Scientists say the fourth wave of infections and deaths could peak in December when the region is at the height of the festive season.
In a televised address this week, Botswana Presidential COVID-19 Task Force Team scientific advisor Dr Mogomotsi Matshaba said he and his colleagues in Southern Africa were agreed that a fourth wave was on its way.
“In our discussions with leading health experts in the region, about two weeks ago, they have revealed that Southern Africa should brace for another wave which could start emerging somewhere in December to January next year,” he said.
“We are still in the middle of another wave and we have got high levels of infections with COVID-19, and it would spell a doom for us to witness another wave while we are still batting another one which is still very much in effect.”
Dr Matshaba said restrictions such as closing of schools, night curfews and social distancing had helped contain the third wave thus far.
“The situation is evolving and an appropriate decision will be taken in the coming months,” he said in relation to the possibility of Botswana further tightening controls.
Co-ordinator of Botswana’s Presidential Task Force, Dr Kereng Masupu added that low vaccination rates would also drive a fourth wave of infections.
“We don’t know how these waves are going to affect us or how we are going to deal with them because they keep on evolving. We have since learnt that developed countries are anticipating a resurgence and that there is likely to be a third dose (of vaccines for double dose inoculants),” Dr Masupu said.
The former chairperson of the South African government’s ministerial advisory committee on the pandemic, Professor Salim Abdool Karim has also spoken of a fourth wave around December 2021 – adding that new variants of the virus could have emerged by then.
With Africa last in line so far when it comes to accessing vaccines from manufacturers, the region’s policymakers face the quandary of keeping economically debilitating restrictions in place to save lives, or to open up societies to allow activities that support livelihoods while risking a surge in infections.