A DECLINE in compliance with lockdown regulations will limit its effectiveness in curbing the Covid-19 spread. This is according to a study by a team led by academics from the University of Pretoria’s department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, who say it will become increasingly difficult to enforce the regulations more than 100 days into lockdown.
Professor Ian Craig, Dr Laurentz Olivier and Stefan Botha published the findings of their study in the online open-access archive arXiv, based on an epidemiological model developed by Craig and Olivier, which they used to predict that South Africa’s coronavirus infections could exceed 570 000.
The number of cases in South Africa has more than doubled over the past two weeks, with the number of known infections over 250 000. The death toll has topped 3 500.
Craig said they considered scenarios of how to flatten the infection curve to a level that the health care system could cope, and how to balance lives and livelihoods in terms of the economic impact of lockdown.
They also included what impact the population’s compliance with lockdown measures has had in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Lockdown levels are typically increased when the disease spreads, and reduced when the disease abates, said Craig.
In Europe, where the peak of the spread and demand on health care has passed, life is slowly returning to normal although some restrictions do still apply.
Craig said South Africa’s case was of interest, as government was already reducing the degree of lockdown although the disease was yet to peak.
South Africa is now at Level 3 of its lockdown, which allows for various economic activities, but infection is increasing exponentially, he said. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday that “the storm we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving”.
Craig said the early, strict lockdown measures in South Africa had been successful from an epidemiological point of view, but great harm was done to an economy that was already weak before the Covid-19 pandemic started.
The team’s paper indicated that when implementing the “flattening the curve” policy, the lockdown, which started at the end of March, had ended up being extremely long, which has an economic impact.
“Preventing economic activity, and thereby preventing certain people from earning a living, will likely increase poverty, which in itself leads to lives lost prematurely. To address this, the ‘balancing of lives and livelihoods’ policy was investigated, under which strict lockdown measures are not imposed for too long, even though the health care capacity may be exceeded,” said Craig.
This policy therefore reduces lockdown levels to curb economic losses, even though infection rates may be considered to be unacceptably high. The scenario is currently playing out in various countries in the developing world, he said.
“There is a very delicate balance to be maintained when implementing policy decisions. Consideration should be given to the effect that policies may have on the citizens. If not, compliance may be reduced, and disgruntled citizens may deliberately violate regulations or fail to keep track of which lockdown level is in force.”