Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says that between 60% and 70% of South Africans will contract coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), but a fraction of that percentage will be serious cases.
His remarks, made during a special session with doctors under the umbrella of the South African Medical Association (Sama) in Pretoria on Thursday night, give some insight into why the government is taking the spread of the global pandemic in the country so seriously.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster during an address to the nation on Sunday night, which saw him banning travel to several European nations as well as the US, China, South Korea and Japan. All gatherings of more than 100 people were also banned as part of stringent measures to try to curb the spread of the virus.
The extent of the state of disaster declaration became more tangible on Wednesday, when government gazetted numerous Disaster Management Act rules, including that all pubs, shebeens and restaurants need to close by 6pm daily.
Profiteering controls gazetted
On Thursday, the Department of Trade and Industry used the act to gazette price controls to prevent coronavirus-induced price gouging of products that are flying off retail shelves, such as toilet paper, hand sanitisers, face masks, disinfectants and surgical gloves.
Mkhize’s comments on Thursday night in relation to the possible extent of the spread of the virus in SA are aligned with those made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She warned last week that up to 70% of the German population could contract the disease, and on Thursday described the outbreak as the biggest challenge Germany has faced since World War II.
Mkhize noted that only around 20% of the estimated percentage of cases in SA will be serious.
He said in a tweet that he expects the total number of confirmed cases in the country to reach 200 by Friday.
Last night at 8pm, we had 150 cases and by tomorrow we are expecting the figure to be 200. The President has called for stringent measures and called for us to unite to fight this virus #SAMA #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/wCU0Bjzkqq
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) March 19, 2020
Following a meeting with religious leaders early on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the official number of cases of people with the virus had surpassed the 150 mark.
The first official case was a man from Hilton in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands who had travelled with a group of 10 people to Italy, which is now under lockdown after becoming the new global epicentre of the pandemic. The good news, however, is that South Africa’s “patient zero” has almost recovered and is set to be discharged, according KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala.
It’s been two weeks since the first coronavirus case in the country was confirmed. With the number set to top the 200 mark, most of the cases are related to people who have travelled overseas. Gauteng is now the epicentre of the pandemic in SA, followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
By late Thursday night no Covid-19 deaths had been reported in SA.
In Africa as a whole, as at March 19, more than 600 cases have been confirmed in 34 countries, according to a statement released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa regional office on Thursday. This is compared with 147 cases a week ago.
Although Africa has seen a significant increase in confirmed cases recently, the organisation noted that there are still fewer cases on the continent than in other parts of the world.
“The rapid evolution of Covid-19 in Africa is deeply worrisome and a clear signal for action,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, noted in the statement.
“But we can still change the course of this pandemic,” she added.
“Governments must draw on all of their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response. Africa can learn from the experiences of other countries, which have seen a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases through rapidly scaling up testing, isolating cases and meticulously tracking contacts.”