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Cyril Ramaphosa is sworn in as South African President in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday Feb. 15, 2018. Ramaphosa on Thursday was elected unopposed as South Africa's new president by ruling party legislators after the Wednesday resignation of Jacob Zuma.
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Health

‘The Storm Is Upon Us’: South Africa’s Ramaphosa Issues Urgent Call to Protect Each Other


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South Africa is currently experiencing the worst of the country’s coronavirus outbreak to date, with more than 290,000 cases now recorded and 12,000 new infections daily — or 500 new infections every hour. 

“The coronavirus storm is far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before. It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their limits,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday in a national COVID-19 address.

Ramaphosa made the address to announce the latest round of measures that the country is taking in its fight against coronavirus, including a 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew, and an extension of the extension to Aug.15, 2020, of the national state of disaster that was declared in March.

Ramaphosa’s address came less than a week after the minister of health, Zweli Mkhize, warned of an impending storm. 

“It’s no longer a matter of announcing numbers of confirmed cases. We are now at a point where it’s our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, close friends, and comrades that are infected,” Mkhize said.

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He also warned that hospitals in the most populated provinces in the country, such as Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, and the Western Cape, are likely to run out of beds for COVID-19 patients. 

South Africa has the highest rates of COVID-19 in Africa and the 10th highest globally. 

This is despite the country taking swift measures in March to curb the spread of the virus, including an extended national lockdown that banned all movement, unless it was to access health care or buy food supplies.

Alcohol and cigarette sales were also banned — although alcohol sales were allowed to start again in May. Ramaphosa said on Sunday that the ban on alcohol sales is back with immediate effect.

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“There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence, and related trauma,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa urged South Africans to be cautious and to make the behavioural changes needed to protect communities.

He said: “In the midst of our national effort to fight against this virus there are a number of people who have taken to organising parties, who have drinking sprees, and some who walk around in crowded spaces without masks.”

“It is concerning that many are downplaying the seriousness of the virus, despite all evidence to the contrary and what we have cautioned on numerous occasions,” he continued. 

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“This may be a disease that is caused by a virus, but it is spread by human conduct and behaviour,” he said. “We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic and we must act accordingly… The truth is that we are not helpless in the face of this storm.” 

It has been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that to help combat the spread of COVID-19, people should wear a mask when out in public, wash their hands frequently, and practice social distancing.

In South Africa, wearing a mask in public is mandatory. But while social distancing and hand washing are encouraged, these are not always possible to implement. 

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Take commuting, for example. The biggest mode of public transport in the country are taxis that seat between 14 and 22 people. Collectively, taxis transport between 15 and 20 million people annually, and are an essential means of getting around. 

South Africa also has densely populated squatter camps and informal settlements, where houses are often built within an arm’s length of each other.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa added, scientists have predicted that between 40,000 and 50,000 people in South Africa could die from COVID-19 before the year ends.

“We must make it our single most important task to prove these projections wrong,” Ramaphosa added.