SA might have hit a half million Covid-19 cases on Saturday night, but all is not lost.
This is the message from President Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement acknowledging the grim milestone.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Saturday said that there were 503,290 Covid-19 infections across SA (the overwhelming majority in Gauteng) and 8,153 fatalities (most of which have been recorded in the Western Cape). Of the total cases, 152,676 are considered “active”.
SA is only the fifth country — after the US, Brazil, India and Russia — to hit the 500,000 mark. But Ramaphosa said that there were positives to be drawn, despite this.
“After a rapid rise in infections over the last two months, the daily increase in infections appears to be stabilising, particularly in the Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape. While it may be too soon to draw firm conclusions, this suggests that the prevention measures that South Africans have implemented are having an effect.
“Our recovery rate is currently around 68%. Our case fatality rate — which is the number of deaths as a proportion of confirmed cases — remains at 1.6%, significantly lower than the global average.
“While SA has the fifth-highest number of total Covid-19 cases globally, we have only the 36th-highest number of deaths as a proportion of the population. For this, we are grateful to the work of our health professionals and the innovative treatments they have pioneered,” he said.
While there were “promising signs”, he said South Africans had to stay vigilant.
“We have to continue to work together to reduce the number of new infections. As with many other countries across the world, we need to continually adjust the measures we take to prevent new outbreaks or to safeguard our health system. We have already seen, for example, that the suspension of alcohol sales has significantly reduced the trauma cases in our health facilities. While these changes can be disruptive to people’s lives and to the economy, it is necessary that we adapt to the changing path of the disease.
“We must maintain our vigilance until we have no more coronavirus cases in our country. If we do not do so, there is the risk of a resurgence in those areas where the virus has now begun to stabilise.
“If we all continue to act together, we can eradicate coronavirus in our country,” he said.
The president said SA had responded “quickly and comprehensively”, largely by going into lockdown early, in an effort to “protect as many lives as possible”.
“The national lockdown succeeded in delaying the spread of the virus by more than two months, preventing a sudden and uncontrolled increase in infections in late March. Had South Africans not acted together to prevent this outcome, our health system would have been overwhelmed in every province. This would have resulted in a dramatic loss of life,” he said.
However, he said this wasn't always successful.
“In certain cases, these efforts were not enough. Several public hospitals in the Eastern Cape were overwhelmed as infections rose in the province, and a specialist team has been deployed to address this challenge.
“In other provinces hard-hit by the epidemic, including the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the health system has so far had sufficient capacity to cope with the number of admissions. This is a testament to the efforts of doctors, nurses, public health specialists and others who have worked hard to prepare for this moment. We need, however, to continue with these efforts to further increase the capacity of our health facilities.
“Additional facilities, equipment and personnel are being deployed in provinces still experiencing an increase in infections,” Ramaphosa said.
The president added that the government was “working hard” to deal with the shortage of personal protective equipment for health workers and other front-line staff.
“We understand the concerns and the frustrations of these essential workers and are committed to resolving this issue with the greatest urgency,” he reassured.
Ramaphosa added that law enforcement would be “empowered” to investigate allegations of corruption linked to medical and other supplies.
“It is unconscionable that there are people who may be using this health crisis to unlawfully enrich themselves,” he said.