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What’s happening in India should be a warning to SA – Prof Abdool Karim

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“We can’t become complacent, we can’t think that we are going to get natural immunity and be protected.”

Professor Salim Abdool Karim. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

WHAT’S happening in India is an indication that we can’t become complacent and think that we are going to get natural immunity and be protected, says former head of SA’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

As South Africans celebrated Freedom Day on Tuesday, there was widespread disregard for Covid-19 regulations as political parties held rallies in packed venues with little to no physical distancing.

Members of the EFF listening to their leader, Julius Malema, delivering his Freedom Day address at Saulsville Arena. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

One of the key drivers of the surge in India, which recorded 350,000 new cases on Tuesday alone, has been state elections.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received criticism for holding rallies with thousands of people in attendance. The country has also hosted religious festivals, and we have watched with envy as fans returned to India’s cricket stadiums.

Health experts say huge gatherings during Hindu festivals and mammoth election rallies in some states have accelerated the unprecedented surge India is seeing. They also say the government’s mixed messaging and its premature declarations of victory over the virus encouraged people to relax when they should have continued to maintain their physical distance, wear masks and avoid large crowds.

Karim said that what is happening in India and Brazil, and what happened in South Africa, gave an indication about the importance of variants and how we needed to think about the future of Covid-19 differently.

“We can’t become complacent, we can’t think that we are going to get natural immunity and be protected. We (South Africa) were under pressure. It didn’t seem so bad mainly because of some prior planning that was done before. In South Africa, the Department of Health, with Right to Care and Deloitte, in preparation for the first wave, made predictions about how much oxygen we needed. It was clear we didn’t have enough oxygen and we were going to run out of oxygen,” Karim told SAfm.

Karim, who has been appointed as a member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Science Council, said oxygen that is used commercially had to be redirected for medical purposes during the surge.

“The Competition Commission had to give a special exemption for the Department of Health to call the four big companies together to redirect the oxygen that is used commercially for medical purposes. If you do that type of planning, you are in a much better position and it doesn’t look bad,” he said.

Crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK arrived at a Delhi airport on Tuesday, the first emergency medical supplies to arrive in the country.

The US, France, Germany, Canada and the WHO have promised to rush supplies to India.

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