President ‘worried’ as South Africa’s virus cases rise fast

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s numbers of COVID-19 are “rising fast,” according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who says that he’s worried.

More than half of South Africa’s more than 50,000 confirmed cases have been recorded in the last two weeks, prompting concerns that Africa’s most developed economy is about to see a steep rise in infections. South Africa has the most cases in Africa, whose 54 countries have reported more than 190,000 cases including more than 5,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa, with a population of 57 million people, saw its COVID-19 deaths climb above 1,000 Monday.

“Like many South Africans, I, too, have been worried as I watch these figures keep rising,” Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly letter to the nation.

“While these numbers are broadly in line with what the various models had projected, there is a big difference between looking at a graph on a piece of paper and seeing real people becoming infected, some getting ill and some dying,” he wrote.

Even as South Africa braces for increased cases and rising numbers of those hospitalized, the country is easing many restrictions of its 10-week-old lockdown.

South Africa’s lockdown, imposed on March 27, is credited with slowing the spread of the virus but because of the drastic economic effects Ramaphosa’s government has had to lift many restrictions to allow people to return to work. Most of South Africa’s workforce returned to their jobs at the start of this month after two months when only essential businesses were allowed to operate fully.

Ramaphosa wrote the nationwide lockdown had achieved “the objective we had of delaying the spread of the virus” and “gave us time to prepare our health facilities.”

But hospitals are coming under pressure, especially in the Western Cape province, which contains the city of Cape Town, and in the mainly rural Eastern Cape.

Ramaphosa visited the Western Cape where a new 850-bed field hospital has been opened in a converted convention center in Cape Town. Another field hospital, a large tented facility, has been erected adjacent to the Khayelitsha District Hospital in a densely packed township to cope with expected overflow.

The Western Cape has more than 65% of the national total, making it the hotspot for the virus in South Africa, as well as in all of Africa.

The disease has risen dramatically in the neighboring Eastern Cape province, which will severely test South Africa’s ability to deal with the virus in poor, rural areas.

Both provinces have more cases than the province of Gauteng, which is South Africa’s commercial hub including the biggest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.

Confronted by long delays in getting test results and shortages of kits, the Western Cape province announced it will only test those over the age of 55, health workers, those being admitted to hospital and those with serious health conditions. People younger than 55 who displayed symptoms should “presume” they have COVID-19 and isolate themselves to prevent further spread, said the provincial health authorities.