South Africans fearfully wait for coronavirus to arrive

By Nerea González

Johannesburg, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- Millions of South Africans living in poverty-stricken informal settlements are fearfully awaiting the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has been the worst affected by the outbreak in Africa, with confirmed cases approaching 1,000.

Around half of the urban population live in substandard conditions, small houses frequently shelter several families, without money to buy food and with the nearest hospital several kilometres away, according to World Bank estimates.

They are unable or cannot afford to get alcohol gel to disinfect their hands, one of the recommendations from the World Health Organization to help contain the spread of the virus.

In Wattville, east of Johannesburg, residents have water but this is not the case in many other townships.

One 87-year-old resident, named only as Lucy, said: “I am scared because I do not know what is going to happen.”

She told Efe during an interview at her home: “I want to be here and lock the door.

“But on Monday I have to go to the hospital for treatment and I’m scared, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Should I go or not?”

She lives with her daughter, who is on HIV treatment, and her four grandchildren.

The family depends on her pension which has to be collected in person at the end of each month.

Lucy said she does not know how they will manage after Friday when a 21-day confinement order takes effect.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown after a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the country.

The first infection was detected on March 5, a man who had travelled to Italy, and the number stayed low with no local transmissions for several days.

But as of March 14, as Europe overtook China as the epicentre of the pandemic, the number of cases began to accelerate with infections multiplying tenfold in one week.

The outbreak has spread to almost all the countries in Africa, leading to confinement measures, border closures and school suspensions.

South Africa has gone a step further and ordered the entire population into lockdown, with people only allowed to leave their homes for essential tasks.

Putting isolation into practice in large informal settlements, refugee camps and overcrowded poor districts will not be easy.

Another Wattville resident, named only as Thandi, told Efe: “It is devastating because how can you stay at home for 21 days?

“We have to go buy food, our children play on the street.”

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