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No evidence for Facebook user’s claims about Covid-19 surge in South Africa

Ahead of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on 3 December 2020 by, a Facebook user with thousands of followers claimed that a significant increase in Covid-19 cases in the country was artificial.

“The ‘surge’ of Covid-19 in hot weather is astonishing,” they posted on their Facebook page, which has more than 90,000 followers.

“It corresponds with and has been created to pave the way for the now ‘ready and availability vaccine, hence Ramaphosa is adressing tonight.” 

The page’s name is “Vytjie Mentor”, but is not verified, so we could not immediately establish if it is run by a former African National Congress parliamentarian of the same name.

Are any of the post’s claims accurate?

Vaccine delivery still months away

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2 December 2020 there were 51 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation. (For more on how vaccines are developed, see here.)

Some of these have been in the headlines in recent weeks, after developers claimed efficacy levels of up to 95%. On 2 December the UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus.

It is not clear when the first vaccines will be distributed in South Africa, but Ramaphosa said the country’s Health Products Regulatory Authority would review the approval applications when these were received from developers and authorise their use. (For more on how South Africa approves vaccines, see our factsheet.)

South Africa is part of the WHO’s Covid-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility – known as the Covax facility – which aims to pool resources and share vaccine development risk, allowing lower income countries not to be left out.

Covax aims to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021, with the most vulnerable groups and frontline workers expected to benefit first. 

So while one vaccine may have been approved, it will be months before one is readily available in South Africa, as the Facebook user claimed. The department of health has forecast mid-2021 for delivery of the first vaccines.

Cases on the rise

According to the president, for almost 100 days since mid-August the country has kept the rate of new infections steady, “at below 2,000 cases a day”.

But in the three weeks before his address this had changed, he said. In the first week of November there were an average of 1,500 new cases daily, which rose to about 2,900 a day by the final week.

On 2 December the country recorded more than 4,400 new infections, which Ramaphosa said was “the largest daily increase in infections since the middle of August”. Health ministry data shows that new infections remained above that mark in the three day after.

There’s little doubt compared with trends over the last few months that this is a sharp rise.

Weather doesn’t matter

Is the rise unexpected for the hot months, as the Facebook post claimed? South Africa’s summer begins in October.

Africa Check asked the Meedan Digital Health Lab, a journalism project aimed at addressing health misinformation, about this.

Their experts told us they had updated their existing explainer with the latest research on the topic. 

Research to explore the impact of temperature or weather on Covid-19 had shown mixed results, Meedan said. More studies are therefore needed, outside of the lab. 

But “warmer weather does not appear to reduce the spread of Covid and it does not impact how the virus spreads from person to person”.

Said Meedan: “Countries around the world, including Asian and African countries with regular temperatures greater than 25 degrees celsius, have reported community transmission (spread) of the virus.”

There are many factors that likely play a much larger role in the spread of the virus than the weather, the experts added. These include population density, human mobility, social distancing policies and practices, testing, public health facilities and more.

Other credible sources such as health information website Healthline are more conclusive, saying that weather just does not matter. 

And the WHO says: “There is currently no conclusive evidence that either weather or climate have a strong influence on transmission. 

“The Sars-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19 disease has been transmitted in all regions of the world, from cold and dry, to hot and humid climates.”

The Facebook post’s claims are not supported by the evidence. – Africa Check


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