S. Africans brace for lockdown as COVID-19 cases surge to 709

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-25 17:06:31|Editor: xuxin
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CAPE TOWN, March 25 (Xinhua) -- South Africa's COVID-19 cases surged to 709 on Wednesday as a national lockdown is about to be implemented, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

This was an increase of 155 from Tuesday's announcement, the highest rise in a single day since the country reported its first confirmed case on March 5.

Mkhize said two of the patients are in intensive care while the others are in stable condition.

Three doctors in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Free State provinces have tested positive, said Mkhize.

There is no reported death so far, the minister said.

The tendency is changing from imported cases to local transmissions, he said.

At least 50 new confirmed cases have been registered from a church in Bloemfontein, the Free State province, according to Mkhize.

The cases were all linked to the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Divine Restoration Ministries in Bloemfontein, he said.

Five COVID-19 positive foreigners from the United States, Israel and France took part in the breakfast, said Mkhize.

He said health workers were still looking for 300 people who attended the service in defiance of a government ban on a gathering of more than 100 people.

Mkhize voiced concern that more and more confirmed cases Are not traceable due to incomplete information.

Hospitals and laboratories are under increased stress to test a growing number of suspected patients, according to the minister.

"We're not doing test on demand. We're doing tests on the basis of symptoms," Mkhize said.

He warned that clinicians and pathologists who fail to provide full details of coronavirus patients would be criminally charged.

The minister said the national lockdown, to take effect on midnight Thursday, is expected to discourage people from moving around, congregating in large numbers and taking public transport, activities that spread the virus back and forth.

The lockdown, declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night, will last until April 16.

Under the lockdown, most shops will be closed except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.

Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant.

Mass panic-buying has been going on for days across the country as the lockdown draws near.

Mkhize said South Africa will have enough food to go around, and pharmaceutical production has been ramped up for over-the-counter medicines.

Also on Wednesday, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lidiwe Sisulu identified high-risk areas that require immediate interventions: public areas with limited or no access to water and sanitation services, overcrowded settlements, informal settlements, rural settlements and water-scarce towns.

Sisulu said her ministry is drawing up a plan to provide water and sanitation to such communities.

"With regards to water and sanitation, our interventions' focus is on water services infrastructure, with an intention of improving water supply, access to sanitation and sanitizing of public spaces," Sisulu said.

She warned that if the virus were to reach densely populated areas, it will find fertile ground to spread.

"We will need to urgently move some of our people for the de-densification to be realized. Land parcels to relocate and decant dense communities have been secured," she said.