South Africa hits 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases

Credit: AP

South Africa has surpassed 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases - representing more than 50% of all reported Covid-19 infections in Africa’s 54 countries.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases on Saturday night.

It brings the country’s cumulative total to 503,290 cases while there have been 8,153 reported deaths.

Silva Cossa ties ribbons onto the fence to represent those who have died from Covid-19, at St James Presbyterian church in Johannesburg. Credit: AP

South Africa, with a population of about 58 million, has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world.

The United States, Brazil, Russia and India, all have more confirmed cases according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University - but all four countries have significantly higher populations than South Africa.

Experts say the true toll of the pandemic worldwide is much higher than confirmed cases, due to limited testing and other reasons.

"Half a million is a significant milestone, because it shows we’ve entered a stage of rapid increases. We may reach one million cases very quickly," said Denis Chopera, a virologist based in Durban.

"What we know for sure is that the figures are an underestimate and that this virus will be with us for a long time to come."

South Africa’s Gauteng province - which includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city and Pretoria, the capital - is the country’s epicentre with more than 35% of its confirmed cases.

Funeral home workers in a protective suit lower the coffin of a Covid-19 victim into ground. Credit: AP

Local hospitals have been struggling to cope, and health experts say the country could reach the peak of its outbreak in late August or early September.

South Africa will have multiple peaks across the country, each challenging its different provincial health care systems, said Mr Chopera - executive manager of the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence.

"The Western Cape had the first peak and did relatively well. Gauteng is the epicentre now and appears to be coping so far," he said.

"Other provinces, like the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, do not have reputations for well-organised health care systems. They may have serious problems."

A restaurant owner and staff protest in the middle of the road in Norwood, Johannesburg. Credit: AP

South Africa imposed a strict lockdown in April and May that succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus, but caused such economic damage that the country began a gradual reopening in June.

South Africa was already in recession before the coronavirus hit and its unemployment stands at 30%.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has extended grants to the country's poorest, increased supplies to hospitals and recently accepted a 4.3 billion US dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund.