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Yes, South Africa’s president warned ‘worst’ of coronavirus ‘still coming’

“RAMAPHOSA: THE WORST IS STILL COMING!” reads the headline of a 5 May 2020 article in the Daily Sun.

The article was posted on Facebook, where it was flagged as possibly false. But president Cyril Ramaphosa did say that the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak was still coming to South Africa. Why?

Covid-19 in South Africa

By 10 May, South Africa had more than 10,015 confirmed cases of Covid-19. The country has started easing a five-week lockdown through a “gradual and phased recovery of economic activity”. This involves slowly relaxing lockdown restrictions. 

But on 5 May Ramaphosa said: “We've got to plan for the worst. We are informed that the worst is still coming. We are going to get more people infected.” 

Ramaphosa was speaking to the KwaZulu-Natal province’s Covid-19 command council in Mayville, Durban. Experts around the country have echoed his view.

Dr Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, has also said South Africa should expect more cases. In an interview for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Africa media briefing on 30 April, Mkhize said the lockdown had “pushed the peak of the epidemic to around July”.

How long could pandemic last?

Citing issues of food security and the need to maintain livelihoods, Mkhize said the new lockdown measures aimed to “contain the pandemic but at the same time make sure that people can continue to lead the kind of life that is sustainable”. 

The minister also tweeted: “If we were to prolong the lockdown, it would not have delayed the peak substantially.”

Dr Salim Abdool Karim, a member of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, has also warned South Africa to expect a more severe epidemic than it has seen so far. 

“We can’t avoid it,” Karim told journalists in late April. “The lockdown bought us time.” He said South Africa should aim to control community transmission, or transmission of Covid-19 between people within the country without a clear external source, as best it can while restrictions are eased.

In part, an increase in cases is expected because it could be a long time before the epidemic ends. 

Karim told television channel eNCA: “For as long as we do not have immunity and we do not have a vaccine, we are going to have to live with this virus. This virus is going to pose a threat continually, well into next year.” 

According to Mkhize, the disease may be in South Africa “for another two years”. – Keegan Leech


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