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Covid-19: WHO warns of drawn out coronavirus pandemic as South Africa cases top 500,000

AFP/Johannesburg
Filed on August 2, 2020 | Last updated on August 2, 2020 at 10.17 am
Statistics analysed by the medical research council suggest the true virus death toll may be higher than the official figures state. Reuters

The health authorities have been expecting a surge in cases after the gradual loosening of a strict lockdown

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday (Aug 1) warned that the coronavirus pandemic would be lengthy and could lead to "response fatigue", as the case count in South Africa topped half a million.

South Africa is by far the hardest hit country in Africa, accounting for more than half of diagnosed infections, although President Cyril Ramaphosa said the fatality rate is lower than the global average.

Health authorities had been expecting a surge in cases after the gradual loosening of a strict lockdown that was imposed at the end of March.

Nigeria on Saturday also announced it would ease a lockdown in the commercial capital Lagos, allowing churches and mosques to reopen next week.

An emergency WHO committee reviewing the pandemic "highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this Covid-19 pandemic", noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.

"WHO continues to assess the global risk level of Covid-19 to be very high," it said in its latest statement.

The agency also said the effects of the pandemic "will be felt for decades to come"

South Africa has now become the epicentre of the deadly pandemic on the continent, accounting for more than half of Africa's diagnosed infections.

"Today South Africa has exceeded the half-a-million mark with a cumulative total of 503,290 confirmed Covid-19 cases recorded," Heath Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update.

More than a third of positive cases are in Gauteng province - South Africa's financial hub.

So far the number of fatalities stands at 8,153, although local researchers have recorded a jump of nearly 60 per cent in the overall number of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a far higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially recorded.

An analysis by the respected South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) suggested an excess of 22,000 natural mortalities between May 6 and July 21 compared to same period in 2019 and 2018.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said Saturday South Africa's case fatality rate stood at 1.6 percent -- "significantly lower than the global average".

"While South Africa 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," said Ramaphosa.

Corruption investigations

South Africa's case load has been rising rapidly in recent weeks.

Health authorities have been expecting a surge in cases after the gradual loosening of a strict lockdown that was imposed on March 27, during the early stage of the pandemic.

But the recovery rate has so far been a high 68 per cent.

South Africa has one of the best health care systems on the continent, but it has been rocked by alleged corruption in the supply of personal protective gear for health workers in public hospitals.

Ramaphosa's spokeswoman Khusela Diko last week took leave pending a probe into her husband's alleged links to unlawful contracts for personal protective equipment.

Diko and her husband have maintained their innocence, saying the contract was never finalised.

The health minister for Gauteng province Bandile Masuke was sent on forced leave this week pending a probe into suspected graft in the purchase of protective equipment and other medical supplies.

"It is unconscionable that there are people who may be using this health crisis to unlawfully enrich themselves," Ramaphosa said in his statement on Saturday.

South Africa has embarked on an aggressive testing and tracing exercise, conducting more than three million tests since the first case of the virus was recorded there in early March.



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