The storm is upon us,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last Sunday in reference to the deep crisis the country is suffering from the current pandemic.
The rainbow nation is on the verge of reaching 300,000 cases and is already the ninth country in the world with the most confirmed cases, surpassing the United Kingdom and very close to reaching Spain. In addition, it is the fifth country in the world with the most cases per day with between 10,000 and 12,000 and has a positive test rate of 27.5% (given the collapse in the laboratories now the tests are mainly aimed at health personnel and patients with symptoms).
With the 174 new deaths announced on Tuesday, the total number of deaths from Covid-19 rises to 4346, and a quarter of all deaths have been recorded in the last week.
Despite its dizzying numbers, the peak has not yet been reached; some worst-hit regions such as Gauteng province (Johannesburg and Pretoria) are expected to reach it by the end of July, others by the end of September. The Ramaphosa administration had these numbers on the table in March, so it chose to shut down the country when it had barely 100 confirmed cases. “We’re not going to avoid the peak, just delay it,” the president said at the time. And that moment has arrived – four months later – in the country’s main cities such as Johannesburg.
Gauteng is the new epicentre of the pandemic in South Africa with more than 100,000 cases, formerly the Western Cape (Cape Town). Its fragile economy does not allow for a return to harsh confinement, so new measures such as curfews have been implemented and the “dry law” prohibiting the sale and distribution of alcohol has been reactivated, in view of the increase in hospital admissions due to accidents related to its consumption.
The good news is that mortality is “one of the lowest in the world, 1.5%,” according to official data, although the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has just announced an “excess” of 11,000 deaths from early May to July. The president said on Sunday that up to 50,000 South Africans could die from Covid-19 by the end of the year. South Africa accounts for 47.6% of all cases of the new coronavirus across the continent, although it is – by far – the country that has performed the most diagnostic tests, more than 2 million.