South Africa’s coronavirus infection number rose by 38 to 240 on Saturday, raising fears that the country may be headed for a national lockdown. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
South Africa’s coronavirus infection number rose by 38 to 240 on Saturday, raising fears that the country may be headed for a national lockdown. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Covid-19: Fears and anxiety grip SA as cases surge

By Roland Mpofu, Karabo Ngoepe and Nathan Adams Time of article published Mar 22, 2020

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Cape Town - South Africa’s coronavirus infection number rose by 38 to 240 on Saturday, raising fears that the country may be headed for a national lockdown similar to the ones currently imposed in Italy and parts of China.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced that the Eastern Cape recorded its first Covid-19 case, while the Western Cape’s figure increased to 74 from 57 on Friday.

Gauteng remained the province with the biggest reported cases - from 109 to 125.

This came as Gauteng Premier David Makhura reportedly warned of a possible lockdown at a meeting with religious leaders in Johannesburg on Friday. Makhura’s sentiment sparked speculation that President Cyril Ramaphosa might announce a lockdown soon.

This week saw a mad dash across the country for hand sanitisers, toilet paper and tinned food as South Africans came to grips with self isolation and the growing possibility of a shutdown.

The rate at which the pandemic is spreading has heightened fears and concerns in the country, with religious bodies, a Chapter 9 institution and a non-government organisation urging communities to observe the president’s disaster management measures amid concerns about the possible impact of the pandemic on water-scarce communities.

Some churches, including the Zion Christian Church (Z.C.C), halted their Easter pilgrimages while others such as the South African Zionist Churches vowed to go ahead with church services.

The government imposed additional emergency measures - including price regulation for essential goods such as hand sterilisers, face masks and antiseptics - aimed at further containing the spread of the acute respiratory disease.

It also blocked foreign nationals from eight high-risk countries from entering South Africa via OR Tambo International Airport.

“As of today, South Africa now has 240 confirmed cases of Covid-19. This means there has been an increase of 38 from yesterday’s (Friday) announcement. It is also notable that the Eastern Cape has its first confirmed case. This patient is a 28-year-old female who had travelled to Germany,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane immediately promised to implement all treatment protocols.

Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said the province acted immediately after catching wind of the patient.

”It started yesterday when there was an indication that because of occupational health, the place of employment of the person indicated that they were out of the country and found that there are some feverish symptoms and took them for testing,” she said.

While waiting for the results, the provincial department traced all of the patient’s contacts and tested them.

She admitted that an outbreak could have disastrous outcomes in the province since it has water shortages.

”It could have disastrous consequences which is why we immediately called district response teams who can get to the people. We have started work with municipalities and districts to provide water tankers to the areas. That is what we are currently doing,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, Italy recorded 627 more deaths on Friday, the biggest single-day increase since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Italy’s death toll reached 4 032, surpassing that of China, which successfully contained the virus and entered a second day without internal transmissions.

The global death toll surged to 11 000, WHO told the media, while at least 277 000 people had been infected. More than 88 000 have recovered.

On Friday, Makhura reportedly told a religious gathering in Parktown that the country was possibly headed for a lockdown.

“A lockdown may just be where we are all headed, and the decision to do so has to be made by our national leadership, and all of us have absolute confidence in our president. We will raise it with the president. We are watching these numbers very closely, and we are worried,” said Makhura.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, did not respond to questions regarding Makhura’s statement, speculation about a possible lockdown and what factors would trigger such a decision.

However, she later took to social media platform Twitter to dismiss as fake news rumours that Ramaphosa was about to announce a lockdown in an address to the nation on Saturday evening.

“Stop spreading fake news. The president is not addressing the nation tonight. The National Command Council will meet in a scheduled meeting tomorrow to assess implementation of the directives announced by the president last Sunday,” Diko said.

Retailers began taking extreme measures to curb panic buying and prevent shoppers emptying the shelves.

Makro, on Saturday announced that it would limit the number of shoppers at a time “in the interest of you and your health. This is in line with the ideals of social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus”.

Clicks was one of the first retailers to limit the number of items a customer may purchase.

Shoprite limited shoppers to only three items per person at checkout.

It confirmed that “demand has increased for sanitary (including toilet paper), hygiene and baby products, dry pasta, UHT milk, tinned foods, immune boosters and vitamins”.

Dis-Chem also implemented limitations on products and confirmed that sales spiked after Ramaphosa’s disaster management announcement.

Sunday Independent 

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