South Africa has lost interest in Covid-19 – just in time for a fresh wave of infections

Business Insider SA

News analysis

  • South Africans can't be bothered with the coronavirus anymore.
  • Online interest in Covid-19 has plummeted, and new vaccinations rates are at their lowest levels since vaccines became broadly available – even though the majority of people are not yet fully vaccinated.
  • In the meanwhile, everything points to a new wave of infections, albeit a less deadly one than those previously seen in South Africa.
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South Africa appears to be heading for a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, though this one is predicted to be less deadly than previous waves.

But South Africans can no longer be bothered to even talk about Covid-19 anymore.

Last week, engagement around Covid-19 vaccines was down by half on Twitter and down by 60% on Facebook, reported the department of health's Social Listening & Infodemiology team.

Meanwhile, vaccination rates are dropping fast, and now seem increasingly unlikely to ever reach the 67% target the health department had originally set for December 2021, even as health authorities try to spread the message that "the pandemic is not over".

At the same time, evidence is mounting that South Africa is entering a fifth wave of coronavirus infections.

Recent numbers had been "worrying", health minister Joe Phaahla told Parliament late last week, though by Monday his department said it wanted to watch the trend a little while longer before officially declaring a new wave.

Both test-positivity rates and signals from wastewater analysis point to trouble, though the consensus is that hospitalisation and deaths will not increase at anything near the same rate as infections, thanks to a combination of prior infections and vaccination. 

Just about nobody wants to get vaccinated anymore

South Africa's vaccination rate has plummeted. Measured on a weekly basis, South Africans across all provinces are getting vaccinated at a rate lower than at any time other than the week between Christmas and New Year and over the Easter holiday. Even with availability for anyone who cares to walk into a vaccine centre, and with near-cash incentives attached, the rate of vaccination is now lower than when only those aged 60 or above could get their jabs in May 2021.

In the last week, 45,484 people were vaccinated in South Africa, compared to a peak of more than one million in late August 2021. 

The number of vaccinations per week, broken down b
Vaccinations per province per week as at 24 April, via the department of health vaccination statistics dashboard.

As of Sunday, 44.62% of the adult population is considered fully vaccinated, dropping to just under 31% for those aged 34 or younger.

In only three provinces are more than half of adults believed to be fully vaccinated: the Free State, the Western Cape, and Limpopo.

One recent survey suggested that the prospect of getting a job, or the need to keep a job, is one of the few reasons still-hesitant South Africans would get vaccinated. But they also resent vaccine mandates, researchers warned, and such compulsion would have to be used carefully.

See also | South Africans will get vaccinated for a job, survey finds – but don’t want to be forced

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