President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on South Africans not to be alarmed and to prepare for an expected rapid increase in Covid-19 infections.
Writing in his weekly newsletter, the president noted that more than half of all cases of coronavirus in the country since the start of the pandemic were recorded in the last two weeks.
He said the country can expect the total number of cases to pass the 50,000 mark during the course of this coming week, and it was also likely to record the 1,000th death from the devastating disease.
“Like many South Africans, I too have been worried as I watch these figures keep rising,” he said.
“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.”
Ramaphosa said South Africans can draw “some comfort” from the knowledge that the nationwide lockdown achieved the objective of delaying the spread of the virus, and gave the government time to prepare health facilities and interventions for the expected increase in infections.
“The lockdown was not only necessary but has also given us all time to adjust to living with the virus.
“Various surveys show South Africans have come to know a lot about the virus and are taking the necessary precautions to prevent its spread.”
The president said he was pleased to realise that a high percentage of South Africans wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with other people and wear face masks whenever they go out in public. However he said social distancing in public places still remained a major challenge.
“We need to focus our attention on ensuring we adhere to social distancing practices because it is through close contact between people that the virus will be spread,” he said.
Turning to his visit to Cape Town last Friday, Ramaphosa said he was impressed by the preparations the Western Cape is making to contain infections and ensure there are enough beds, staff and medical supplies to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of people needing hospitalisation.
“They are increasing the number of beds by setting up field hospitals, including at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
“Yet, even with the preparations they have made, they will need more bed capacity as the disease reaches its peak. They need help from outside the province, including additional funding and health personnel,” he said.
The Western Cape is the epicentre of coronavirus infections in SA, with around two-thirds of all confirmed cases.
“This provides the clearest evidence yet that we are correct to treat coronavirus as a national disaster. We must mobilise and deploy all the necessary resources we have in the country. We need an integrated strategy that brings together the national, provincial and local spheres of government,” he said.
After the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is the province with the fastest-growing proportion of people infected, noted the president.
“We know some infections in the province were the result of people travelling from the Western Cape. What this tells us is that no part of the country is an island and that all South Africans, no matter where they live, need to remain vigilant and prepared.
“It is for this reason also that people are not permitted to travel between provinces while the country is at alert level 3, except under specific circumstances and with the necessary permits,” he said.
“As we watch the number of infections rise further – probably far faster than most of us imagined – we should be concerned, but not alarmed. That is because we have the ability, as individuals, as communities and as a country, to limit the impact of the disease on our people,” he said.
Ramaphosa said it has been shown the spread of the coronavirus can be slowed. He called on South Africans to continue to take all measures possible to continue to flatten the infection curve and, more importantly, to be prepared to reduce the number of deaths by implementing the necessary health measures.
The government has been working hard to prepare for the increase in infections, he said.
“We have been buying personal protection equipment from across the world and supporting local companies to produce them here.
“We have been improving the infrastructure in hospitals, setting up temporary hospitals and finding more beds for Covid-19 patients. We have deployed tens of thousands of community health workers to detect cases in areas where people live. We are intensifying the programme of screening, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, isolation,” wrote Ramaphosa.
He said South Africans can also do much to prepare as individuals and families.
He said each household should look at how they can protect elderly people and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, TB and HIV.