Tue | Sep 22, 2020

South Africa says 12 million ‘probably’ had coronavirus

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2020 | 2:08 PM
Customers have their nails done near the Baragwanath taxi rank in Soweto, South Africa on Wednesday September 16, 2020. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to address the nation later in the day, as case numbers and death from COVID-19 hit the lowest in months. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — About 12 million people in South Africa have “probably” been infected with the coronavirus, but that startlingly high number has not caused a similarly high death rate and might indicate a widespread “level of immunity,” the country’s health minister says.

More than 20% of South Africa’s population of 58 million have had the virus at some point, Dr Zweli Mkhize estimated this week.

He cited studies that found the presence of coronavirus antibodies in blood samples taken from parts of the population.

The findings have prompted the government to launch a national study, he said.

“South Africa has seen the surge receding, and thus raises the question of the level of immunity that may already be existing in society,” he said.

Other studies have indicated that up to 40% of the population might be immune to the virus, Mkhize said.

Some South African experts suggest that Africa’s most developed economy may be approaching herd immunity, but scientists believe at least 70-80% of a population needs to be immune before there’s any effect.

And with COVID-19 it’s unclear how long that immunity might last.

With confirmed virus cases dropping significantly, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday evening announced that South Africa’s borders will reopen as of October 1, with visitors required to show negative coronavirus test results no older than 72 hours before departure. Visitors will not be permitted from countries deemed at high risk, Ramaphosa said, not naming names.

Ramaphosa also announced further relaxed restrictions on public gatherings, to a maximum of 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.

The president warned that the second wave of the pandemic in some countries has been worse than the first.

“A second wave would be devastating to our country,” he said.

South Africa’s number of confirmed virus cases have dropped in recent weeks after a peak in late July that saw the country recording up to 15,000 cases daily, and raised fears that health services in some major cities might collapse.

Official figures showed just 772 new cases on Tuesday.

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