100-day timeline on Covid-19 pandemic in SA
As Friday marks 100 days since South Africans were informed of the first Covid-19 patient, the country has seen a steady increase in cases and deaths.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize raised the country's concerns and fears when he informed the nation on March 5 that a KwaZulu-Natal man had been the country's first confirmed case of the coronavirus presence.
Since that day the country saw a sharp, but marginal rise in cases. At first, the bulk of the country's cases were "imported" cases from foreigners entering the country and citizens returning from overseas trips. The first Covid-19 cases recorded, including the KZN man, were from a group of 10 people who had returned from Italy in early March.
In mid-March, the country started recording other spots of imported cases. On March 18, Mkhize announced 116 cases. And 100 days later, the country has recorded 58 568 cases as of June 11. Recoveries were recorded at 33 252.
NCCC and declaration of the national state of disaster
It was towards the end of March that the country began seeing cases of community transmission.
The presence of community transmissions spurred the government into action with a Cabinet committee, the National Coronavirus Command Council, being formed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the declaration of a national state of disaster in response to the rising number of cases. This declaration put the country on alert and would see regulations being promulgated under the Disaster Management Act to help fight the spread of the virus. The regulations placed restrictions on gatherings, with no more than 100 people allowed at gatherings, 50 people at funerals and a limitation on the trade of alcohol.
The declaration was also meant to free up resources to be used in strengthening the country's health strategy.
Ramaphosa announces national lockdown
Ramaphosa announced on March 23 that the rise in cases had now necessitated a national lockdown. He said the lockdown was needed to help decrease community transmissions. Only essential services were allowed to operate during this time as the economy was frozen from operating. The lockdown was meant to last for 21 days.
Ramaphosa extended it in April for another two weeks.
First Covid-19 deaths
The country recorded its first Covid-19 related deaths on March 27, with two cases confirmed in the Western Cape. The country saw a rise in deaths after these two cases. As of June 11, the number of deaths stands at 1 284.
Alert level strategy
With calls for a reopening of the economy, Ramaphosa announced on April 23 that the country would be taking a risk-adjusted strategy to reopening the economy. This would see the country move from a hard lockdown to level 4 from May 1.
The country would gradually move to the other alert levels based on scientific advice. The move to alert level 4 saw the opening up of some sectors of the economy, but many remained closed. Restrictions on public interactions remained in place. The wearing of masks in public became mandatory.
At the time the country had over 3 000 confirmed cases and 58 deaths. He also announced a R500 billion Covid-19 package which was meant to help alleviate the strain on the economy. A total of R20 billion would go to financing healthcare, where the shortage of beds and personal protective equipment was becoming a huge challenge.
Municipalities would also receive R20 billion and another R20 billion would go to financing the social relief response, which included an increase in social grants, the provision of food parcels and an unemployment insurance grant.
As Ramaphosa announced these measures, there were also concerns about the impact of the lockdown on the economy, with National Treasury projecting an increase in unemployment and a decrease in tax revenue collection.
Projections of Covid-19 by scientists
Following complaints, the health department released the modelling and projections compiled by scientists advising the government in May.
The consortium of scientists presented, along with Mkhize, what the country's coronavirus outbreak could look like in the next few months. Their modelling shows that by May/June South Africa could see close to 500 Covid-19 deaths – the country has surpassed this figure.
The number of those infected within the same period is expected to be just over 40 000 nationally – 58 000 cases were recorded as of June 11. The modelling also projected over 40 000 deaths by November.
The modelling also showed that the lockdown had worked in slowing down the rate of infections. It has been stressed by the government and scientists that the lockdown was meant to slow the rate of infections and ready the health system. It was never meant to be a silver bullet.
Ramaphosa announced that the country would move to level 3 from June 1, which would see more sectors of the economy opening up. This has seen the easing of restrictions, with an end to curfews and more time for those who liked to exercise.
But gatherings remained banned and the tight control over funeral numbers remained. Alcohol was unbanned, with restrictions on its sale being between Monday and Thursday.
Retailers were now given the go-ahead to sell their full merchandise. Level 3 also saw the controversial decisions to allow religious gatherings. This decision was praised by some religious leaders and criticised by others. Some religious institutions said they would not reopen their doors fearing a spread of the virus.
Court challenges to lockdown restrictions
June has been the month where the government has faced increased threats of legal litigation challenging the lockdown regulations. The first legal threat came in May, with the Fair Independent Tobacco Association filing court papers at the High Court challenging the government's decision to ban the sale of tobacco products under level 4 and 3. The case was heard on June 10, with judgment reserved.
Last week, the High Court in Pretoria delivered a judgment which declared that some of the government's regulations were invalid and unconstitutional. It was an urgent matter brought by an organisation called the Liberty Fighters Network. The government was given 14 days to amend the regulations.
Last week, the cabinet resolved to appeal the judgment on an urgent basis. Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said the government believes the decisions taken and the regulations declared under the National Disaster Act were lawful and rational to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and to save lives.
Mthembu said the government had consulted legal experts on the matter and believed the court would come to a different decision.
The government is also facing another legal challenge to its ban on the sale of tobacco products. British American Tobacco filed papers at the Western Cape High Court two weeks ago.
The DA, which has been outspoken about the lockdown strategy, filed court papers at the Western Cape High Court challenging the government's decision to prohibit businesses such as hairdressers and other grooming services from operating.
The DA also filed a challenge to the Disaster Management Act at the Constitutional Court. The court has allowed the party to submit an application explaining its case against the State.
Over 1 million tests and testing backlog
June has also seen the country surpass 1 million tests conducted for the coronavirus. The country has also seen its infections rate climb to above 3 000 cases reported per day. The Western Cape has remained the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for over 60% of the country's cases. The Eastern Cape and Gauteng were also seeing a rise in cases.
The National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) also reported that it was facing a testing backlog due to the global shortage of tests. The NHLS said it had expected to receive 15 000 testing kits per day but was only accessing 20 000 per week.
The Western Cape would now be prioritised for the delivery of testing kits, but the province has reduced its backlog with a new testing strategy targeting those over-55, health and essential workers.IOL
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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za