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'Continuing with the lockdown is not unwise - it's impossible'

21 May 2020 11:38 AM

We failed to make good use of the lockdown. Maintaining it now is "suicidal for South Africa", warns Prof Alex van den Heever.

South Africa’s Covid-19 models show the government’s Covid-19 strategy has been reduced to “digging graves”, according to Professor Alex van den Heever (Wits), one of the country’s leading experts on health.

Drone footage of downtown Cape Town during lockdown (by Step Above - YouTube screengrab).

Models show the country is on its way to realising its worst-case scenario, according to Van den Heever.

He warns that South Africa doesn’t have enough ICU (intensive care unit) beds, even in the most optimistic scenarios.

In his opinion, locking down hard and fast for two or three weeks was correct, however, a lockdown-dependent approach after that would always fail.


(For more detail, read: SA Covid-19 models show government's strategy has been reduced to 'digging graves', says expert)


Kieno Kammies interviewed Van den Heever.

Any model is an attempt to create a simulation of real life, to make clear certain factors important for decision-making… You do not trust models to make decisions off them – not without a huge amount of interrogation… Unless you make the assumptions clear, it’s not really telling you much other what your own internalised [into the model] prejudices are…

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

Epidemics are subject to interventions, so you can’t assume everything is going to go smoothly for the virus… Most models miss human dynamics… epidemics don’t follow the model…

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

It’s not inappropriate [comparisons to other societies], but you must look realistically at your own context. Paris doesn’t look like Johannesburg…

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

They’re saying our interventions are not going to suppress the epidemic sufficiently [when considering the number of available ICU beds].

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

We had a long time to develop alternatives to the lockdown - which lots of other countries have implemented – such as community-based testing and tracing… We have no contact tracing app. We have no way to separate the infected from the uninfected using a testing regime…

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

We have no way of maintaining this lockdown for any longer. It’s suicidal for South Africa! … It looks like people planned for this because they didn’t upscale the testing regime… [Government] shouldn’t have focussed on what clothes we needed to wear – they should’ve focussed on getting testing and tracing in place, at scale, by the end of the lockdown. They didn’t do that.

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

You would’ve had a contingency for if what’ we’re doing didn’t work. The government made the contingency the strategy!

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

There’s a substantially diminished wall between us and the virus… it’s not feasible [to separate the vulnerable from the less vulnerable] …

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

It may rise considerably, or it may stop for reasons we don’t fully understand… There’s too little data… We’ll have a clearer sense in two weeks – a long time!

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

I’m not saying it [continuing with the lockdown] is unwise, I’m saying it’s impossible… We’re now going to have to cope with an increasing epidemic within the context of an economy that has no option but to open. It’s unfortunate – we could’ve been in a different position had the alternative prevention mechanisms been put in place, but they weren’t.

Professor Alex van den Heever, health expert - Wits

Listen to the detailed interview in the audio below.


21 May 2020 11:38 AM

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