cyril ramaphosa alarmed coronavirus
President Ramaphosa says we should remember one simple, but fundamental, message: Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared. Photo: SANews

President Cyril Ramaphosa says he has one simple but fundamental message for his fellow South Africans: “Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared.”

He says he, like most people, has noticed the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in SA rising fast. “More than a half of all cases since the start of the outbreak were recorded in the last two weeks,” the President says in his latest letter to the public.

By yesterday (Sunday 7 June), Mpumalanga has recorded its first death as the number of COVID-19 infections increased by 2 312 to 48 285 in South Africa.

Meanwhile, in the hard-hit Western Cape (which has recorded two-thirds of all confirmed cases), another 45 people succumbed to the COVID-19 related disease, bringing the death toll in SA to 998 as of Sunday.

“During the course of this coming week, we can expect that the total number of cases will pass the 50,000 mark. Sadly, we are also likely to record the 1,000th death from this devastating disease,” says Ramaphosa.

“I too have been worried as I watch these figures keep rising,” he says, while acknowledging that there’s a difference between knowing the projections on a graph, and “seeing real people becoming infected, some getting ill and some dying”.

Lockdown has helped, but social distancing in public a problem

President Ramaphosa says the nationwide lockdown has given the government time to prepare health facilities and interventions for the expected spike in infections.

“The lockdown was not only necessary but it has also given us all time to adjust to living with the virus.

“Various surveys show that South Africans have come to know a lot about the virus and are taking the necessary precautions to prevent its spread.

“I have been pleased to realise that a high percentage of South Africans wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with other people and wear face masks whenever they go out in public.”

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Covid-19 related deaths in South Africa. Screenshot from Worldometers, 8 June 2020

Ramaphosa says however that social distancing in public places is still a “major challenge”, especially since it’s through “close contact between people that the virus will be spread”.

Western Cape is Epi-Centre and needs more help

The Western Cape remains the epicentre of the outbreak in South Africa, with 31 824 cases, followed by the Eastern Cape with 5 974 and Gauteng with 5 946.

Ramaphosa says he was impressed on his visit on  to the Western Cape on Friday by the preparations being made there, including setting up field hospitals like the one at Cape Town International Convention Centre, but that the Western Cape will still need even more bed capacity (30,000 estimated) as the disease reaches its peak.

“They need help from outside the province, including additional funding and health personnel,” says Ramaphosa.

“This provides the clearest evidence yet that we are correct to treat coronavirus as a national disaster. We must mobilise and deploy all the necessary resources we have in the country.”

After the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is the province with the fastest-growing proportion of people infected… which is being attributed to its proximity to the Western Cape and infected people travelling into the E. Cape from the W. Cape.

“What this tells us is that no part of the country is an island and that all South Africans, no matter where they live, need to remain vigilant and prepared. It is for this reason also that people are not permitted to travel between provinces while the country is at alert level 3, except under specific circumstances and with the necessary permits,” says Ramaphosa.

Infections growing faster than expected cause for concern, not alarm

“As we watch the number of infections rise further – probably far faster than most of us imagined – we should be concerned, but not alarmed,” says the President. “That is because we have the ability, as individuals, communities and as a country, to limit the impact of the disease on our people.

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Active coronavirus cases in South Africa. Screenshot from Worldometers, 8 June 2020

“As we have shown, we can slow the spread of the disease, and we should continue to take all measures possible to continue to flatten the infection curve. Most importantly, we must be prepared to reduce the number of deaths by implementing the necessary health measures.”

He says together with social partners, the government has been working hard to prepare – buying personal protection equipment from across the world and supporting local companies to produce them here; improving the infrastructure in hospitals and setting up temporary hospitals and finding more beds for COVID-19 patients; deploying tens of thousands of community health workers to detect cases in areas where people live.

“We are intensifying the programme of screening, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, isolation,” says Ramaphosa. “Although we have made progress, we still need to do much more in the coming weeks to meet the expected demand.”

He encouraged all South Africans as individuals and families to prepare, learn about the disease and how to avoid it and avoid infecting others.

“Each household should look at how they can protect elderly people and those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, TB or HIV. Do plan for the possibility that someone in the family may become infected and whether you will be able to isolate them from family members until they are better. If not, find out where the closest government quarantine site is.

“You should also plan ahead for what to do if someone gets sick.”

Ramaphosa ended his letter saying: “Over the coming weeks, as we watch the coronavirus infections continue to rise, we must remember that we are not helpless.

“And we should remember one simple, but fundamental, message: Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared.”