The number of coronavirus cases in South Africa has more than doubled over the past two weeks, bringing the number of known infections to 205,721, as of July 7.
The spike has taken South Africa from the 28th worst-hit nation at the end of May to the 15th highest in the world now. While 97,848 people have recovered, the highly contagious disease has claimed 3,310 lives in the country so far.
South Africa tops the number of recorded infections across the African continent, ahead of Egypt and Nigeria. It has also tested more people than any other African country, with nearly two million of the country’s 58 million people already tested.
Below is an animated graphic that shows how the coronavirus spread across South Africa’s nine provinces since the outbreak was first recorded in March:
Here is how new infections and deaths were recorded over the past four months, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University:
March: 1,353 new cases, 5 deaths.
April: 4,294 new cases, 98 deaths.
May: 27,036 new cases, 580 deaths.
June: 118,526 new cases, 1,974 deaths.
Until July 6: 54,512 new cases, 653 deaths.
South Africa’s first confirmed case was reported on March 5 in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal. At the end of March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced one of the toughest lockdowns anywhere in the world, banning anyone but essential workers from leaving home except to buy food or medicine.
Sales of alcohol and cigarettes were banned, while citizens were also restricted from exercising outside their homes or going to places of worship.
In May, Africa’s second-largest economy began to slowly reopen, which experts say is behind the recent rise in coronavirus cases.
Defending the decision, Ramaphosa said last month his government wanted to “balance our overriding objective of saving lives and protecting livelihoods”.
Mapping South Africa’s COVID-19 cases
South Africa’s hardest-hit province is the Western Cape – home to Cape Town, the nation’s legislative capital – with more than 1,000 new cases being reported every day.
However, attention has recently turned to Gauteng – home to Johannesburg and Pretoria cities – with almost 3,000 new cases being reported daily.
Below is an overview of COVID-19 cases and deaths in South Africa, according to data compiled by the Media Hack Collective and Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism:
Low mortality rate
While South Africa ranks as the country with the highest number of cases in Africa, its mortality rate is low compared with other highly infected nations.
Egypt, which has the second-highest number of cases, has a mortality rate of 4.49 percent compared with 1.61 percent for South Africa.
Jabulani Ncayiyana, epidemiologist and lecturer at Cape Town University, told Al Jazeera that South Africa’s healthcare system could possibly explain the low death rate compared with other nations on the continent.
“Our healthcare system is not the best, but it is better than most African countries and that could explain the low death rate,” he said.
Ncayiyana said South Africa’s experience in dealing with infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDs has also better prepared it to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
He pointed out that even before the pandemic erupted, South Africa has long served as a regional hub for many countries to send samples for testing of various infectious diseases.
What’s next for South Africa?
South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Tuesday said the rise in infections was worrying but anticipated.
In an interview with the Cape Talk radio show, Mkhize said the government might impose “some kind of restrictions” but so far, no decision had yet been made.
“We cannot go back to what we had [nationwide lockdown] when the coronavirus pandemic started,” said Ncayiyana.
The epidemiologist acknowledged that the initial lockdown helped build South Africa’s healthcare capacity to better manage the influx of coronavirus cases, but added that it was not a sustainable solution.
“What we need is a more localised response,” he said, suggesting more attention should be paid to areas identified as hot spots, and focusing on prevention measures such as washing hands and wearing masks.