JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The peak of COVID-19 in South Africa took the country to more than a million confirmed cases on Sunday and President Cyril Ramaphosa has called an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
The country’s new variant of the coronavirus, 501.V2, is more contagious and has quickly become dominant in many areas of the resurgence, experts say.
With South African hospitals reaching capacity and no sign of the new surge peaking, Ramaphosa is expected to announce a return to restrictive measures designed to slow the spread of the disease.
“We are not helpless in the face of this variant,” infectious disease specialist Dr Richard Lessells told The Associated Press. “We can change our behavior to make the virus less likely to spread.” He said it was very important to avoid contact with others in enclosed indoor spaces.
South Africa announced a cumulative total of 1,004,431 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday evening. That number includes 26,735 deaths in a country of 60 million people.
“One million cases is a big milestone, but the actual number of cases and deaths is almost certainly much higher,” Lessells said.
“We have seen the new variant spread rapidly,” he said, noting that genomic sequencing shows it has become dominant in the coastal provinces of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It is not yet clear whether the variant is also dominant in the Inner Gauteng Province, which includes Johannesburg and is the most populous province in the country.
“As people return from vacations to coastal areas, we can expect them to bring the variant with them,” Lessells said. “We can also expect travelers to take the variant with them across borders to other African countries.”
The COVID-19 virus mutation has made it possible to bind to cells in our bodies more efficiently, experts say.
Vaccinations have yet to reach South Africa, although Ramaphosa has said he expects 10% of the country’s 60 million people to be vaccinated in the first months of 2021.
South Africa’s seven-day moving average of daily new cases has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, from 10.24 new cases per 100,000 population on December 12 to 19.86 new cases per 100,000 population December 26. The number of deaths has also almost doubled. with the seven-day moving average of daily deaths in South Africa has fallen over the past two weeks from 0.25 deaths per 100,000 people on December 12 to 0.48 deaths per 100,000 people on December 26.