President Cyril Ramaphosa. Image: Armand Hough/ANA
“‘Herd immunity’ can’t contain coronavirus,” says China
Europe is now the new epicentre of the coronavirus that has infected some 200,000 people internationally and killed over 8000 people.
Speaking at the the 46th Coronavirus Prevention Media Conference hosted by the Guangzhou government in China on 18 March, top Chinese coronavirus expert Dr Zhong Nanshan – who is a senior medical advisor – denounced the United Kingdom’s decision to allow its citizens to develop ‘herd immunity’ against the extremely fatal and infectious coronavirus. The conference featured a panel of top Chinese experts and medics.
As opposed to the radical measures taken by other countries like closing schools; prohibiting public gatherings; making conditions conducive for quarantining and social distancing; nationalizing healthcare; and partnering with Cuba for its reliably proven medication and China for its leading experience in dealing with the pandemic – United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his government’s intention to delay the progression of the virus as it is allowed to infect the population. In this regard Johnson said that testing will be conducted only on the most gravely ill and that those with symptoms of the infection are advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The ‘herd immunity’ strategy, aptly described as ‘an exercise in brutal eugenics’, is said to be ‘tantamount to a far-right death cult’. Its adoption by the UK is attributed to the influence of the Chief Adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings.
Incidentally the UK’s approach follows China’s launch on Monday of its initial clinical trials regarding a coronavirus vaccine. Chinese researchers indicated they are prepared for massive production in this regard.
Dr Nanshan clarified that there is no evidence that proves that ‘if you are infected once, you would be immune for life’. This factor alone suggests that the ‘herd immunity’ strategy won’t work. He further pointed out that the pattern of conduct of the outbreaks beyond China was similar to that experienced in Wuhan in its earlier days. He stressed that another very critical reason why the coronavirus can’t be contained via this strategy is because it is too infectious and too lethal. He called on all countries to accelerate their efforts to control, prevent and defeat the coronavirus pandemic, without delay.
Exactly what does the ‘herd immunity’ strategy entail?
Basically herd immunity suggests a scenario where a certain population is ultimately protected from a disease, because the vast majority of the said population becomes immune after having been infected by it the first time (with no chances of being reinfected), and hence the disease cannot spread. To this end a disease causing virus or bacteria must have a perpetual supply of people who are not resistant (immune) to it, to cause an outbreak.
In this regard immunity means that your body has acquired the necessary knowledge to fight a particular kind of infection because it has dealt with it previously, either by way of experiencing the illness or via a vaccine.
Upon encountering a particular bacteria or virus for the first time, the immune system of the body is said to produce substances called antibodies that are programmed to destroy ‘one specific type of bug’.
Once antibodies have been created some remain in the body which in turn will remember how to reproduce them again when required. This is what is said to provide the body with the necessary protection or immunity against a particular illness in the long-term.
If there are none that are immune to an illness or disease (like when the coronavirus first started), it can spread with speed.
To illustrate: ‘if half of people have developed immunity – from a past infection or a vaccine – there are only half as many people the illness can spread to.” So when the number of people that become immune continuously increases, the bug finds it more and more difficult to spread to such a point that ‘its pool of victims becomes so small it can no longer spread at all.’
Accordingly by adopting the ‘herd immunity’ strategy a government allows its citizens to get infected by the virus in a controlled manner.
Is Ramaphosa following the ‘herd immunity’ strategy of London?
What’s happening in the UK via the employment of the ‘herd immunity‘ strategy is effectively happening in SA too, only the government here is not saying so.
Evidence suggests that Ramaphosa has adopted the London approach in cahoots with Stellenbosch to allow South Africans to develop ‘herd immunity’ against the fatal coronavirus infection. But we know, as elaborated above, that this strategy is not going to destroy the pandemic.
Kent University’s Jeremy Rossman suggests that for ‘herd immunity’ to be developed in the UK, over 70% of the population must contract the disease in order to build up a tolerance that is strong enough nationally to prevent the virus from circulating. This amounts to over 47 million people. He further pointed out that since COVID-19 is currently estimated to have a “2.3% case-fatality rate and a 19% rate of severe disease,” attaining the ‘herd immunity’ in the UK to COVID-19 “could result in the deaths of more a million people with a further eight million severe infections requiring critical care.”
During a South African Medical Association (Sama) special session with doctors in Pretoria on Thursday (19 March), Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said that between 60% and 70% of the South African population will contract the coronavirus (also known as the Covid-19) with a fraction thereof constituting serious cases. The big question here is how does he know this with such degree of certainty unless the government has already decided to allow the virus to infect the vast majority of the SA population at a controlled pace towards achieving herd immunity?
SA’s current population is 59,308,690. 70% of this population, which is 41,516,083 people, will be infected by COVID-19 – calculating from what Mkhize has said.
This means that since COVID-19 is currently estimated to have a 2.3% death rate and a 19% rate of severe disease, attaining the ‘herd immunity’ in the SA would result in the deaths of 954,870 people with a further 7,888,056 million people with severe infections requiring critical care.
SA’s adoption of the ‘herd immunity’ strategy is further evidenced by it allowing international flights from high risk countries to land in the country. In this regard, on Friday the Airport Company of South Africa confirmed that:
i. International flights from high-risk countries, like China and Italy, have been allowed to land at the OR Tambo International Airport on 20 March.
ii.South African citizens are allowed to disembark from these airplanes.
iii. The airplanes will be kept in isolated bays where they will undergo screening procedures by the department of health.
iv. Arrangements will be concluded for the return of all foreign passengers to their countries.
Since SA has: banned people traveling and flights from high-risk countries regarding coronavirus; cancelled Visas from those countries; revoked previously approved visas; and does not have the necessary capacity to deal with the epidemic – how was it possible for these people to travel and aircraft to land in SA.
The relaxation of its own measures against the deadly coronavirus, further strongly suggests that the SA government is following the ‘herd immunity’ strategy of allowing the population to be infected by the coronavirus. It is also instructive that Zweli Mkhize made his announcement on the same day that the said aircraft landed on SA soil, that between 60 to 70% of the population will be infected by the virus.
Compounding factors in speeding up the rate of coronavirus infections in SA
While Africa’s contraction rate is comparatively lower than the high rate seen in Europe, there’s a valid concern that when the spread of the epidemic speeds up in the continent, African countries (SA included) lack the political will and the healthcare infrastructure to respond to the crisis as is the case with the likes of Cuba, China and Spain.
Also South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV infections in the world. About 7.7 million South Africans are currently living with HIV. Moreover 60% of people with HIV also have tuberculosis (TB).
While it isn’t known how the coronavirus will affect people with TB and HIV, scientists say that those with such medical conditions are at a heightened risk of being infected by the virus. To this end according to the Academy of Science of South Africa, those living with HIV are “eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital for influenza-linked pneumonia.”
Similar practices: UK and SA
Just like in the UK:
i. the SA government is only allowing for the testing of those who are so gravely ill that they need to be hospitalized.
ii. people who believe that they have the virus but are not gravely ill and need to be hospitalized, are asked to stay at home and self quarantine for 14 days.
iii. calling the coronavirus hotline or presenting themselves at a GP is a waste of time if you are not gravely ill and need to be hospitalized.
iv. not receiving treatment for seven days could result in death but this does not render the case severe enough to warrant treatment.
v. the SA government is not interested in tracking down and stoping the virus.
vi. the strategy is effectively to let the poor and elderly die.
Issued by Black First Land First, National Coordinating Committee of (BLF NCC)
21 March 2020
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