FILE PHOTO: A member of medical staff swabs the mouth of a resident as she is testing him for a virus, during a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to try to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Alexandra, South Africa, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have surpassed 600,000, the health ministry said on Friday, although the number of new cases has been declining since a peak in July.
Despite imposing one of the world’s toughest lockdowns at the end of March when the country had only a few hundred cases, South Africa saw a surge in coronavirus infections that has left it the hardest hit on the continent.
The ministry said in a statement South Africa now had a total of 603,338 cases and 12,843 deaths – accounting for more than half of the continent’s cases and around 47% of its deaths, according to a Reuters tally of government and World Health Organization data.
Africa’s most industrialised economy reported 3,398 new cases on Friday, compared with a peak of over 13,000 cases a day seen in July.
“We believe that South Africa is in a way moving past the point of the peak of the pandemic, we believe we have gone beyond the inflection point,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday.
The COVID-19 crisis has battered an economy already in recession and pushed millions of South Africans deeper into extreme poverty.
The government eased lockdown restrictions this week to allow most of the economy to re-open. But President Cyril Ramaphosa cautioned that cases could surge if people failed to maintain vigilance.
Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Sandra Maler and Rosalba O’Brien