Photograph — Finance TIme

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned that the coronavirus pandemic may stay for a year or even more, adding that a surge in COVID-19 cases is expected as more people resume work.

The President disclosed this on Monday, warning that people should be prepared to live with the coronavirus for a year or even more. He said the easing of the nationwide lockdown must not result in careless behavior, predicting that the risk of infection outbreaks will increase.

“We will be no different. We can and must expect infections to rise as more people return to work. We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it,” Ramaphosa said.

Speaking on the prediction, he said the country must be ready to continue to live with the coronavirus. “We must be prepared for a new reality in which the fight against COVID-19  becomes part of our daily existence.” 

Although some countries have been recording fewer cases, there is a need for change in behavior as restrictions on economic activity and daily life are eased to halt the spread of the disease. For instance, the way people changed their behavior to prevent the spread of HIV should also be adopted in the fight against the coronavirus. 

Experts expressed confidence that the lessons learned from previous health emergencies, including the devastating Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa, will help in the fight against the coronavirus.

Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize noted that the transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response, that of recovery, will be more difficult than the present one. “The risk of infection outbreaks will increase. The demands on our clinics and hospitals and medical personnel will grow.”

Since the beginning of May, workers in South Africa have been allowed to embark on their daily activities, but with strict restrictions. The President said the next phase of the response will see the government introducing intensive screening, testing, and case management.

Ramaphosa said even after the lockdown, the country will still need to observe social distancing, and follow other precautions to avoid the spread of the disease. Also, it will need to organize workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission.

Ngozi Erondu, an associate fellow of the Global  Health Programme at Chatham House, singled out as positive developments the establishment of institutions such as the Africa Centre for Disease Control and increase in the continent’s laboratory capacity. “Prevention of a large outbreak rests on containment of imported cases and trying to stop community transmission.”

The spread of a dangerous disease requires rapt attention and a broad response that goes beyond medical provision because health systems in Africa are strained and have a very limited capacity to absorb the pandemic. The overall strategic approach should focus on containment, improving health facilities and preventive measures, experts say.

By Ahmed Iyanda.

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