It’s a question of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’, as we assess the potential third wave of COVID-19 in South Africa. A slow vaccine rollout, compounded by the onset of winter, is likely to fuel a resurgence in new infections. One of the key drivers for a spike in transmission are superspreader events – and experts believe they know what’ll cause the next one.

What is a superspreader event?

It’s the term given to a situation or gathering that can help COVID-19 spread like wildfire. Indoor venues with big crowds, over-capacity parties, and any gathering that packs a high-density of people into a smaller space are usually where superspreader events are traced to.

Last year, parties at the Tin Roof club in Cape Town and ‘Matric Rage’ events tipped the scales in favour of the virus. Infections exploded in both Cape Town and KZN, which led to case rates soaring across the whole country.

Where will the next superspreader event occur?

Religious gatherings

Dr. Saadiq Kariem, of the Western Cape Health Department, has identified the upcoming religious holidays of Easter and Ramadan as potential superspreader events. He branded each occasion as a ‘huge concern’ for the local government:

“We’ve got Easter coming up, in fact, we’ve also got Ramadan coming, and it’s a huge concern for us. This is exactly what happened with the Tin Roof incident if you recall, and there were many others similar to that. We hit those clusters of infections, the crisis accumulated, and eventually, we hit the second wave.”

Bars, pubs, funerals – or even taxis

Professor Alex van den Heever, Chair Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits University, went as far as to name specific events that could create a superspreader incident…

He is particularly wary of funerals, bars, and pubs, as well as taxis with closed windows. The professor says that any big indoor gathering has the potential to spark the third wave – although he did advocate for the safety of outdoor events:

“People went to what we term ‘superspreader events’ last year If we go into the Easter period where people go to parties, where people collect in indoor spaces that is what makes the difference. If funerals are going to be indoor gatherings with large concentrations of people, then you have to restrict them.”

“Those Rage parties in November/December last year were the big driver for the uptick – but so are nightclubs, pubs, shebeens, and taxis with closed windows. We must be a lot stricter in gathering sizes that are indoors, and enforcing things like windows down in transportation – however, I will say that events outside are much safer.”

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Presh JM Reporter

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