In just six months, it has been predicted that 48,000 people could die from COVID-19 in South Africa with Cape Town one of the continent’s hot spots for the virus.
The popular tourist destination at the southern tip of Africa had more than 12,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday, representing 63 per cent of South Africa’s 19,000 cases and about 10 per cent of Africa’s 95,000 cases.
Gauteng province containing Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, and the capital, Pretoria, had been expected to be the country’s epicentre with its population density and poverty levels, but Cape Town defied predictions with high levels of community transmission.
“No model upfront predicted what we see in Western Cape (province),” Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize told journalists Thursday.
“The explosion of cases in Western Cape is out of the expected range and it may be that we need to have additional interventions to try and contain those numbers.”
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Cape Town’s mountains and beaches may have contributed to its high number of COVID-19 cases. With direct flights to several European capitals, it is believed that tourists not showing symptoms brought the virus and it began to spread undetected.
Cape Town and Western Cape province are six to eight weeks ahead of the rest of South Africa in the outbreak, health experts said.
Meanwhile a team of scientists have made the prediction that 48,000 could die – adding that more than a million people could be infected by mid-July and the country’s ICU beds could run out by June.
One of those experts, Dr Sheetal Silal, said these numbers were at the upper end of a “pessimistic” outlook in their modelling, but she stressed that, no matter what happens, the country will run out of ICU beds.
Even in an optimistic scenario there would be just over 40,000 deaths by November, Dr Silal said.
In a pessimistic scenario, the death toll for the nation of 57 million would be 45,000-48,000, she said.
Spain, by comparison, has reported about 278,000 cases and almost 28,000 deaths for a population of only 47 million.
However, Dr Silal stressed the wide degree of uncertainty for making forecasts at this stage.
“Here we are trying to make projections on the entire span of the epidemic for the next six to eight months, so there is considerable uncertainty,” she said.
South Africa reported its first coronavirus case on March 5 and since then has implemented some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, including a ban on tobacco and alcohol sales.
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The government copped some criticism for the measures, but it attributes them with keeping the spread under control.
Its coronavirus tally now stands at 17,200 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 312 deaths, in a country of 57 million.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week that the country would ease restrictions from June, allowing certain sectors of the economy to return to work. The education ministry has also announced the reopening of schools from June.
Globally, the World Health Organisation has expressed concern about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich countries have begun emerging from lockdown.
The global health body said on Wednesday that 106,000 new cases of infections of the coronavirus had been recorded in the past 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.
“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.
“We are very concerned about rising cases in low and middle-income countries,” Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program, said: “We will soon reach the tragic milestone of five million cases.”
Many countries around the world are loosening their coronavirus restrictions but people are discovering that what a return to normal looks like varies widely. In Spain, it’s a new government order to wear masks outside even as some businesses reopen.