The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa has surged past the 400 mark, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize revealed in a statement just after 1pm on Monday.
The tally now stands at 402 and represents the biggest single-day increase yet in Covid-19 cases in the country, up by 128 cases since Sunday.
Health officials are warning that the next two weeks will be crucial for South Africa and there is now increased speculation that President Cyril Ramaphosa will announce a full-scale lockdown when he addresses the nation tonight.
The government has already announced several “state of disaster” measures over the last week, including bans on most international travel, gatherings of more than 100 people and curbs on liquor trading hours for pubs, shebeens and restaurants that are aimed at trying to avert the growth in local transmission of the contagious virus.
In his latest update on Monday, Mkhize described the increase as “significant” and reiterated that Ramaphosa will address the nation on measures to be undertaken to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
“We will thereafter engage the public to give further details and explanations on the results, including the significant rise, the ongoing testing processes, each province’s progress on contact tracing efforts,” he said.
Mkhize conceded that the provincial and age graphs in his latest statement had areas listed as “unknown”.
“This is information that the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is still collating and verifying. Thereafter the graphs will be updated accordingly. Our priority is for provinces to be alerted of the new confirmed cases so that immediate contact can be made with these new patients and ensure that contact tracing starts,” he stressed.
All nine provinces in South Africa now have confirmed cases of Covid-19, with the Eastern Cape, North West and Northern Cape reporting their first cases over the last three days.
Gauteng is the epicentre of the virus in the country with 207 confirmed cases.
This means that the country’s economic hub and most populous province now accounts for more than half of Covid-19 cases in South Africa.
The Western Cape has hit the 100 mark, while KwaZulu-Natal has now reached 60 confirmed cases.
Noteworthy for South Africa is that most Covid-19 cases confirmed thus far are related to people who have travelled overseas – largely to Europe and the US. Also, there has been no reported Covid-19-related deaths; and encouragingly the first recovery has been reported.
The NICD continues to monitor Covid-19 trends and transmission rates in the country.
In its statement on Sunday night, the institute noted that of the 274 cases (at the time), 208 or 76% of those who had contracted the virus had a history of travel from “an area where Covid-19 is circulating”. It noted that the majority of those without international travel history have had “recent contact with persons who have travelled internationally”.
The government, health officials and the NICD will be keeping a beady eye on “local transmissions” of the virus. While some may think the government declaring “state of disaster” measures a week ago is somewhat draconian – especially around curbing large scale gatherings and liquor trade – the move is aimed at curtailing local transmissions.
A pandemic of local transmission will put great pressure on the country’s already shaky public healthcare system, but serious concerns have also been raised around the possible impact on the section of South Africa’s population already affected by immune-system-lowering diseases such as HIV and TB. According to UNAids, South Africa has more than 7.7 million people living with HIV.
One of the reasons given for the devastating toll of Covid-19 in Italy – now home to the most coronavirus-related deaths globally – is that country’s ageing population. Italy, which has around 60 million people, reportedly has the second oldest population in the world after Japan. According to the World Economic Forum, around a third of Italy’s population is over the age of 60.
With around 59 million people, South Africa has a slightly smaller population than Italy. However, South Africa has a much younger population with almost 64% under the age of 34, and around 9% over the age of 60 years according to figures from Statistics SA.