Covid outbreak spreads east from Cape into South Africa’s main urban centers

Johannesburg, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Significant outbreaks in the capital cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria over the past two weeks have placed South Africa fifth in the world in terms of number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as the pandemic continues to tear through the African continent.

Despite imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns for three months until June, more than 205,721 cases have been reported, with 3,300 deaths, and the infection rate is continuing to increase at a rate of between 8,000 and 10,000 per day.

The figures mean the country is by far the worst-affected on the continent, accounting for some 40 percent of confirmed cases in Africa.

But even though the caseload is stretching the country’s resources, the fatality rate has remained relatively low at 1.6 percent, and while hospitals are slowly filling up, admissions are also lower than officials had predicted at the outset of the pandemic.

In his weekly newsletter, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa warned the nation against becoming complacent.

“While the COVID-19 fatality rate is low in South Africa compared to the rest of the world, the rising number of infections is a caution against complacency,” he said.

The recent surge has been linked to the easing of lockdown restrictions on June 1, which saw virus hotspots shift from the Western Cape province, home to Cape Town, to Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng province.

Gauteng is not only the economic and political center of the country, it is also the most densely populated province.

While Western Cape remains the worst affected region, Gauteng’s number of active cases is spiralling upwards, with three times as many.

The rising caseload has led to debates over whether restrictions, which saw the whole nation except for essential workers barred from leaving their homes – even for outdoor exercise – were eased too soon.

But reimposing lockdown measures would implicate further economic disaster for the country, which is already anticipating its worst financial crisis in a century. Forecasts predicting a 7.2 percent contraction of GDP and spiralling levels of unemployment, budget deficit and debt.

Responding to questions at the weekend about the possibility of reintroducing a “hard” lockdown, Ramaphosa said it “is not being considered for now; the issue of jobs lost concerns us. Other countries are experiencing even bigger losses. We are developing various other ways of responding.”

“What we have been seeking to do is to balance… saving lives of our people and also preserving liveloods, and it’s a delicate balance,” he said. EFE-EPA


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