“The lockdown succeeded in delaying the spread of the virus by more than two months, preventing a sudden and uncontrolled rise in infections at the end of March,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday evening in the last of a television series . speech to the nation.
As restrictions eased, infections grew rapidly, with some observers questioning decisions to allow crowded minibuses that provide most public transport to operate and to allow religious services. The ban on smoking and drinking has also been controversial.
In recent days, several senior officials of the ruling African National Congress, including Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, have been suspended or forced to resign temporarily over corruption allegations. More than a hundred contracts to purchase protective equipment and other vital supplies are being investigated in Gauteng province, the economic heart of South Africa and its hardest hit region.
Gauteng province leader David Makhura told reporters on Thursday that the corruption allegations had “deeply eroded public confidence in the government … and undermined the work done by or health workers in the fight against Covid- 19 ”.
South Africa recorded 10,107 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, and has the fifth highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world and the 36th highest number of deaths relative to its population.
Just over 3 million people have been tested for the virus in South Africa, which confirmed its first case five months ago, and 8,153 deaths have been recorded.
Although testing levels have varied, the daily increase in infections appears to be leveling off in the hard-hit provinces of Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape.
World Health Organization senior health emergencies specialist Mike Ryan warned last week that South Africa’s experience provided a glimpse of what was likely to happen across the continent.
There are nearly 950,000 confirmed cases in Africa, although most experts agree that inadequate testing means this is only a fraction of the total number of people who have contracted the virus. There were around 20,000 deaths.
The difficulty – if not outright impossible – of social distancing in poor and tight urban areas of Africa, has been a factor in the spread of the virus. The severe curfews inflict enormous suffering on huge numbers of people who have no regular income but who depend on daily income to pay for basic necessities.
South Africa’s health system, weakened by years of underfunding and mismanagement, was almost overwhelmed.
In his speech, Ramaphosa sought to reassure South Africans, saying the government continues to mobilize additional facilities, equipment and personnel in provinces which are still experiencing an increase in infections.
A “national ventilation project” is expected to deliver 20,000 locally produced non-invasive ventilators to where they are needed most in South Africa in the coming weeks, the president said.