College of Agriculture, Engineering
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Click here for isiZulu version

Senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Dr Ridhwaan Suliman delivered a presentation titled: COVID-19 Data and Trends. The Devil in the Details, during the latest in the Data@breakfast webinar series hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

Suliman looked at the indicators used to track resurgence and understand the COVID-19 situation in South Africa. The primary indicators include:

•    Confirmed cases

•    Testing and test positivity rate

•    Tracking of hospital admissions and people currently occupying hospital beds

•    Deaths

•    Mobility patterns

Suliman, who holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Cambridge, emphasised the importance of looking at the limitations of indicators and said it was essential to look at ‘trends in data, rather than individual data points.’

He said due to a drop in testing over weekends and public holidays a seven-day rolling average was used to ‘smooth out data and account for weekend effects.’ He noted that the recent period of unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng would also affect data from these provinces.

‘Currently, nationally, we are reporting just over 11 500 new cases per day on average across the country. That figure is down just over 11 percent currently, week-on-week. Promisingly, we have on a national basis surpassed the peak of the third wave and are on a downward trend over the last couple of weeks. This is primarily driven by the province of Gauteng having surpassed its peak.’

He cautioned that there are many more undetected or unreported cases and estimated that cases in South Africa are at least five to ten times what is reported because ‘many people may not test, or we simply aren’t picking up asymptomatic cases as well.’

Looking at mobility patterns, Suliman said: ‘We know the virus moves as people move so we do track mobility patterns. One can really get an understanding of the behaviour of people and the movement of people and it is essentially a precursor of what we see in the spread of infections.’

Dr Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist based at UKZN’s Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), fielded questions from the audience, including the importance of presenting data on HIV/AIDS and TB to the public, in a similar manner to the approach undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head of the Centre for Quantum Technology at UKZN Professor Francesco Petruccione thanked Suliman and Lessells for availing themselves for the early morning session and quipped that most of the audience probably follow Suliman on Twitter!

Click here to view the webinar and follow Suliman on Twitter: @rid1tweets

•    About the speaker: Dr Ridhwaan Suliman is a senior researcher in the Operational Intelligence Impact Area within the NextGen Enterprises and Institutions cluster of the Centre for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR). He holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Cambridge and also has a background in engineering, with Bachelor’s, Honours and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering, as well as experience working in the aeronautics and defence industries. His research involves the modelling and design of physical systems within the computational mechanics domain, using computational tools and physics to better understand and design these systems. More recently, he has been involved with the analysis of COVID-19 data and trends in South Africa, using this analysis and data to drive and inform decision-making and policy.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photographs: Supplied