Wed | May 27, 2020

‘Terrified’ South Africa nears lockdown; cases almost 1,000

Published:Friday | March 27, 2020 | 12:21 AM
A boy wears a mask as a preventative measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, as he navigates a flood of water mixed with garbage following heavy rains, in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, March 26.
A boy wears a mask as a preventative measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, as he navigates a flood of water mixed with garbage following heavy rains, in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, March 26.

JOHANNESBURG (AP):

South Africa, on the eve of a three-week lockdown, announced its coronavirus cases are nearing 1,000, while the president urged police to have compassion as they ensure that most of the country’s 57 million people stay at home.

“Our people are terrified right now and we should not do anything to make their situation worse,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said. “Psychologically, they are already scared that they could get the virus, lose income, lose jobs, get sick without medication.”

Anxiety has been especially high for low-income South Africans squeezed into townships, sometimes with an extended family sharing a shack of corrugated metal and little income. Fears of an increase in domestic violence and rape have been expressed by civil society groups. And economic pain is widespread; South Africa’s economy was already in recession with unemployment at 29 per cent in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

Returning to homelands

“I have even resorted to selling face masks so that I can raise money and return to my homeland outside (Johannesburg),” said street vendor, Dinko Seroka, as people lined up to take buses to more rural areas. “As you can see here, everyone is leaving for their homelands, and if I stay behind I don’t know how I’m going to survive.”

South Africa has the most cases in Africa with 927, with no reported deaths. Africa’s total cases are now 3,037 with South Africa’s latest cases added to the toll of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-six of the continent’s 54 countries have cases.

South Africa’s lockdown is one of the world’s strictest so far, with alcohol sales, running, and dog-walking banned. Citizens should expect to be sober for 21 days, authorities have said, but there were brisk sales at liquor stores Thursday. The military has been deployed to help enforce measures. Borders have closed except for transport of essential goods.

Without naming countries, the World Health Organization regional chief for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters that “draconian” restrictions must include strong public health measures to truly contain the virus’ spread. Humanitarian corridors might be needed as well, she said.

The window is “narrowing every day” but there’s still a chance to contain the virus’ spread in many countries, Moeti said. About half of African countries with the virus have only imported cases from abroad.

More African nations are expected to impose lockdowns. On Thursday, the president of Botswana, who has been in self-isolation as a precaution after a weekend trip to Namibia, told his country to “Please prepare yourselves” for an imminent one.