Prevent the third wave from going tidal

Prevent the third wave from going tidal

Confirmation that the Delta variant – the most highly transmissible form of Covid-19 identified to date – is now spreading in South Africa demands urgent action from every person to help prevent the third wave of Covid-19 from becoming a tidal wave, a South African clinical risk expert warns.

“Although limited information is available on this variant, indications so far suggest that it can spread much more easily – and it could be 55% to 97% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus,” says Dr Jacques Snyman, medical advisor to Health Squared Medical Scheme.

“This appears to be driving a rapid increase in infections. The number of people being hospitalised in our country for Covid-19 is picking up fast, and many more people are getting sick – irrespective of which variant they have. We all need to take steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones and South Africa. A great deal is at stake, and if we don’t act now, we could face a tidal wave of infections in the coming weeks.”

Simple measures can save lives

“Fortunately, there are many simple things we can do individually to reduce the risk of transmission, which can make a great difference collectively and save lives. At the rate of infections seen recently in Gauteng, we all have a responsibility to slow the spread and prevent too many people becoming seriously ill at the same time, potentially outstripping the country’s healthcare resources,” Snyman points out.

“It’s human nature for us to want to be physically close to our loved ones and spend time with our friends, but this is not the time to be socialising – especially since we are far behind in vaccinating, with people in their fifties only now being vaccinated. Many young people may feel invincible, but it is reported that younger people are becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 in the third wave, possibly as a result of the Delta variant.

“It is important to understand that with the Delta variant, in particular, it appears that the viral particles can remain airborne in an enclosed space – such as a room or vehicle – for many hours, potentially infecting anyone else in that space. It has also been suggested that the quantity of viral particles a person is initially exposed to could influence the severity of the Covid-19 illness they will develop in some cases.

“In winter, people tend to gather indoors and keep windows closed because of the colder weather. This can create ideal conditions for the spread of Covid-19, especially if people are not wearing masks correctly. Good ventilation is essential, and it is important to open windows for airflow, whenever possible, in shared spaces – even with your close family.”

Cold weather does not cause people to develop colds, as is commonly believed. “Whether it is a cold, influenza or Covid-19, the viral particles are what causes the illness. If you are in an enclosed area, breathing in air that has a high concentration of these germs, you are much more likely to become ill. Rather let fresh air circulate even if it is cold, wear masks, and self-distance if those around you are not keeping a safe social distance.”

Wearing a clean mask that covers the nose, mouth and chin helps to contain the virus particles when people breathe or speak so that fewer infectious viral particles are released into the air or onto surrounding surfaces.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reiterated that the guidelines for prevention advised since the start of the pandemic remain effective, even against the Delta variant. “In South Africa we were among the first countries to adopt the wearing of masks in public, which can be extremely effective but only if everyone does it correctly at all times,” says Snyman.

As part of Health Squared’s sustainable, member-centred approach to healthcare funding, it was the first scheme to cover Covid-19 tests irrespective of the result, thus encouraging responsible testing behaviour early on to help prevent community spread.

“The gold standard for Covid-19 testing remains the polymerase chain reaction [PCR] test. The rapid tests, however, should only be used for simple screening by professionals in specific situations and should not be used by the general public as a basis for making decisions,” he adds.

Health Squared covers the Covid-19 vaccine in full for members on all benefit options.

“We really need to consider all aspects of our daily lives and see how all of us as responsible individuals can practically limit opportunities for the virus to spread,” Snyman emphasises.

“Local testing capacity may be stronger now than it was in the first wave, meaning that a higher proportion of cases are detected. However, this does not diminish the fact that it is more transmissible than the dominant strains we had in the first two waves. If we act immediately, many thousands of lives could be saved in the months ahead.”

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