South Africa struggles with post-holiday spike in COVID-19

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa is struggling to cope with a spike in COVID-19 cases that has already overwhelmed some hospitals, as people returning from widespread holiday travel along the coast spread the country’s more infectious coronavirus variant.

Of particular concern is Gauteng province, the country’s most populous, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Authorities said it is already seeing a spike in new infections after people travelled to coastal areas, where the variant is dominant.

“We expect that Gauteng is going to be hit very soon and very hard,” said Director of the Africa Health Research Institute Professor Willem Hanekom. “It is anticipated Gauteng will have a steep curve of increased cases and hospitalisations.”

The Steve Biko Hospital in the Pretoria area has already reached capacity and is putting COVID-19 patients into a field hospital outside the main building.

In response to the resurgence, South Africa has re-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including closing business establishments, enforcing a night curfew and limiting attendance at public gatherings including church services and funerals.

President Cyril Ramaphosa who has met with his National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet (NCCCC) over the renewed public health crisis, addressed the nation on the pandemic yesterday.

South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has reported 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, representing more than 30 per cent of all the cases in Africa, which this week exceeded three million. It has reported over 33,000 virus-related deaths but experts said all numbers worldwide understate the true toll of the pandemic due to missed cases and limited testing.

South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen from 19.87 new cases per 100,000 people on December 27, 2020 to 31.52 new cases per 100,000 people on January 10, according to Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in South Africa has risen about 75 per cent over the past two weeks, from 0.49 deaths per 100,000 people on December 27, 2020 to 0.86 deaths per 100,000 people on January 10.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe is also experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, largely as a result of the high numbers of travellers between the two countries.

Zimbabwean authorities have banned families from transporting dead relatives between cities, part of new measures to stop traditional funeral rites that are believed to be increasing the spread of the disease.