How is South Africa’s response to coronavirus 21 days into lockdown

This Thursday would have been South Africa’s final day of the initial 21-day lockdown, but this is now extended for another 2 weeks as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week. As SA continues with the lockdown, a slow and steady curve has emerged illustrating how health authorities have managed to curtail the spread of the virus.

South Africa confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on the 5th of March. This was on the same day as Cameroon, Serbia and Bhutan.

In the first 6 weeks of having to grapple the deadly epidemic, statistics, as released by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday, highlighted that South Africa had a record of 2506 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19.

Since the first cases were reported by Cameroon, Serbia, Bhutan and South Africa respectively, data from the European CDC on the situation update on COVID-19 highlights that South Africa has the second-highest numbers behind Serbia. This when focusing on countries that recorded their first cases alongside South Africa.

How is South Africa doing compare to others 

With 2 506 cases as of 15 April, indications are that South Africa’s rate of infection is maintaining a reduced growth rate. When comparing the two countries, just over a week ago on the 4th of April South Africa recorded 29 more cases (1 505 in total) of the deadly virus more than the 1 476 cases reported by Serbia officials.

On Tuesday, Serbia reported  4 054 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

With a population of over 6.98 million people as reported by the World Bank in 2018, Serbia continues to face an upward battle against the coronavirus. The population numbers in Serbia leave very little to compare against the over 57 million South Africans also reported by the World Bank in the same period.

Serbia had taken a proactive response within days of their first case. Media reports suggest just after 5 days of the first case highlight that the government of Serbia took urgent measures to protect the population against the coronavirus. These included temporarily banning foreign nationals coming from areas with intense coronavirus outbreak, namely from Italy, certain provinces of China, from South Korea, Iran and parts of Switzerland from entering our country.

However, just as Serbia surpassed South Africa’s numbers, more stringent measures were put in place by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic who announced new measures. This included the introduction of a curfew from 1pm on Saturday till 5am on Monday. Although punitive measures were initially put in place, the latest amendments would allow the Serbian government to try and decrease the number of infections within the county which is likely to affect their population.

All these, as South Africa was entering Day 10 into the initial 21-day lockdown, with 1 585 confirmed cases and nine confirmed deaths. This an indication of how South Africa had slowly began the daunting task of flattening the cure against COVID-19, which can be attributed to the precautionary measures undertaken under President Ramaphosa’s leadership, namely the pronouncement of a national state of Disaster on the 13th of March when the country had only just recorded 17 cases.  On the other hand, Serbia was scrambling to implement relevant measures to curb its high rising numbers.

 Government measures helping to curb the spread

The first case of COVID-19 in Africa was reported in Egypt on February 14. The country has managed to contain the spread of the virus, as Egyptian health minister Hala Zayed has highlighted.

Zayed emphasised that the country had adopted precautionary measures soon after the country saw a steep rise in the import of cases into the country, which was largely due to the bustling tourism industry.

She maintained that Egypt was among the countries with a low rate of coronavirus infections. As the country announced 59 cases on March 11, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled el Anani and State Minister for Information Osama Haikal, said that Egypt was among the first world countries to take strong preventive measures to combat the virus.

To date, Egypt has recorded 2 350 cases – about 2 291 additional cases than the cases reported on March 11. This is a period of 34 days. While at about the same time, on March 12, South Africa had only reported 13 cases, the following 34 days saw 2 493 more cases being reported in the country at the southern tip of the continent.

This statistical analysis highlights the effectiveness of the government interventions taken by Egypt. The measures taken by the country included a declaration of a two-week curfew in March.

Last week, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly extended the nationwide night-time curfew by 15 days until April 23 to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

Prior to Madbouly’s announcement, Egypt had two days earlier reported 149 new coronavirus cases – its highest daily toll since confirming the first infection in February. Perhaps the rapid rise was the starting point of a downward curb for the Egyptians.

Algeria is another African country that has been leading in relation to the reported numbers. The country is currently reporting 2070 cases. The epicentre of the virus in the country is the Bilda area, south of the capital Algiers. To curb this spread of the virus in the country, the government imposed a night curfew in the capital and a full lockdown in the neighboring province of Blida. Later, this lockdown was extended to the country’s 10 provinces.

The number of interception for the three countries is expected to give a clear indication of how the various actions by the governments are assisting to ensure that the spread of the virus is being curbed.

‘SA’s epidemic trajectory unique’

Chairperson on the Ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19, Professor Salim Abdool Karim on Monday suggested that  South Africa’s epidemic trajectory – related to COVID-19 was unique, compared to other countries.

Speaking at a briefing of the Health Department on the technical aspects of the disease, Karim made specific reference to how the country’s actual course highlights the effectiveness of the government’s measure.

The epidemiologist Professor says that since the lockdown was implemented on March the 26th, the case numbers appear to be stabilising.

With more than a third of the world’s global population under lockdown, governments are working to ensure that health systems are prepared to deal with this pandemic. Efforts to curb the spread were well underway for most countries and these efforts evident in the numbers to date.

Singapore 

Singapore confirmed its first case COVID-19 on January 23. However, preparation had been out in place to ensure that virus is controlled once in the country. As early as the 3 January, the government had put in place measures to counter the virus spread. These comprised temperature screening would be implemented at Changi airport. The country confirmed its first case just days after the government had put in place a number of measures to safeguard the health and well-being of Singaporeans.

Currently, Singapore has reported 3 252. The trajectory displayed by the country shows that in the 82 days since the first case was reported there has been slow growth in the number of cases, clearly showing how efficient the government response has proven.

Still in Asia, Japan is another country that has acted in a decisive nature to ensure that the spread of the virus is curbed. The country has taken extreme measures in as far as the declaration of a national state of emergency as announced by Japanese Prime Minister Abe on April 6. The country has prolonged the sharp increase in the virus from the when the first case was announced in the country on January 15.

Australia can be viewed as a case study of how government intervention helps slow down the growth rate in  infections. Just as the countries cases topped 1600, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on March 23 announced strict new lockdown rules days after having ordered pubs, cinemas, churches and casinos to close.

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