An outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa led to more than 1 million confirmed cases in the country on Sunday, and President Cyril Ramaphosa called an emergency meeting of the National Council to Combat Coronavirus.
Experts say the country’s new variant of the coronavirus, 501.V2, is more contagious and has quickly become dominant in many areas.
With hospitals in South Africa reaching maximum capacity and no indication that a new outbreak of the disease has peaked, Ramaphosa is expected to announce a return to restrictive measures aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.
“We are not helpless in the face of this option,” infectious disease specialist Dr Richard Lessells told the Associated Press. “We can change our behaviour so that the virus has less opportunity to spread.” He said it was important to avoid contact with other people in closed rooms.
South Africa announced on Sunday night that a total of 1,004,431 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported. This number includes 26,735 deaths in the country of 60 million people.
“One million cases is a major milestone, but the true number of cases and deaths will almost certainly be much higher,” said Lessells.
“We have seen a rapid spread of the new variant,” he said, pointing out that genomic sequencing shows it has become dominant in the coastal provinces of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It remains to be seen whether this variant will dominate the inland province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and is the country’s most populous province.
“When people return from holidays in coastal areas, we can expect them to bring this option with them,” Lessells said. “We can also expect travellers to carry the variant with them across borders to other African countries.”
Experts say the mutation of the COVID-19 virus has made it bind more effectively to our body cells.
Vaccination has not yet reached South Africa, although Ramaphosa said he expects 10% of the country’s 60 million people to be vaccinated in the first months of 2021.
The daily rolling average of new cases in South Africa has almost doubled over the past two weeks from 10.24 new cases per 100,000 people on December 12 to 19.86 new cases per 100,000 people on December 26.
The number of deaths also almost doubled, with the seven-day moving average of daily deaths in South Africa rising over the past two weeks from 0.25 deaths per 100 000 people on 12 December to 0.48 deaths per 100 000 people on 26 December.