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Wastewater analysis identifies KZN unrest as super-spreader event

The Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology (IWWT) at the Durban University of Technology has identified the recent civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal as a COVID-19 super spreader event, reports IOL.

IWWT research showed the riots had contributed to a substantial spike in COVID infections in the province.

“Thousands of people were in confined spaces for long periods of time, without masks or any physical distancing,” said IWWT director, Professor Faizal Bux.

Before the riots, the average daily number of new cases in a seven-day period was 1366 for KZN and 449 for the eThekwini Municipality.

“Clinical data from 31 July report that the number of new infections in a 24-hour period in KZN reached 2239, with 1007 of this stemming from the eThekwini Municipality,” he said. The violent riots and looting, which lasted nine days, had significantly affected KZN’s response to the pandemic, adding strain to an already stressed healthcare system.

As of 5 August, notes IOL, 2667 and 1280 new cases per day were reported for KZN and eThekwini Municipality respectively, clearly showing the protests were a COVID-19 super spreader event.

The closure of diagnostic laboratories during the unrest also meant significant under-reporting in the number of infected individuals in KZN from 9-17 July.

“Any backlog in clinical data would have been reported from 19 July onwards – when lab staff returned to work. The effect of the unrest on infections would have only manifested itself in clinical data seven to fourteen days later,” Bux said.

Weekly monitoring of the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant (CWWTP) has resulted in key findings, added IOL, and suggests that there are more infected individuals in the metro than what is clinically reported and a further increase in clinical case numbers is expected in the days to come.


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