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, writes President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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, writes President
Cyril Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter.
Dear fellow South African,
Most people will have noticed that the number of
confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa has been rising fast. More than
a half of all cases since the start of the outbreak were recorded in the last
two weeks.
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.
Like many South Africans, I too have been worried as I
watch these figures keep rising. While these numbers are broadly in line with
what the various models had projected, there is a big difference between
looking at a graph on a piece of paper and seeing real people becoming
infected, some getting ill and some dying.
We can draw some comfort from the knowledge that the
nationwide lockdown, in achieving the objective we had of delaying the spread
of the virus, gave us time to prepare our 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. I
should however say that social distancing in public places is still a major
challenge for us. We need to focus our attention on ensuring that we adhere to
social distancing practices because it is through close contact between people
that the virus will be spread.
It is pleasing to realise that businesses, government
departments, schools and other institutions have used this time to get
themselves ready for a gradual return to more-or-less normal activity. They
have been putting stringent health protocols in place, thoroughly cleaning and
sanitising their premises and are ensuring that people are regularly screened
for Covid-19 symptoms. This is all necessary to ensure that we save lives and
protect livelihoods.
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Last Friday, I spent the day in Cape Town to get a better
sense of the work that is being done to manage the disease there. The Western
Cape is the epicentre of coronavirus infections in South Africa, with around
two-thirds of all confirmed cases.
I was impressed by the preparations the Western Cape is
making to contain infections and to ensure that there are enough beds, staff
and medical supplies to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of people
needing hospitalisation. They are increasing the number of beds by setting up
field hospitals, including at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Yet, even with the preparations they have made, they will
need more bed capacity as the disease reaches its peak. They need help from
outside the province, including additional funding and health personnel.
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. We need an
integrated strategy that brings together the national, provincial and local
spheres of government.
After the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is the province
with the fastest-growing proportion of people infected. And we know that some
of the infections in the province were the result of people travelling from the
Western 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.
As we watch the number of infections rise further – probably
far faster than most of us imagined – we should be concerned, but not alarmed.
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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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.
Working with our social partners, we in government are
working hard to prepare for the increase of infections. We have been buying
personal protection equipment from across the world and supporting local
companies to produce them here. We have been improving the infrastructure in
hospitals and setting up temporary hospitals and finding more beds for Covid-19
patients. We have deployed 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.
Although we have made progress, we still need to do much
more in the coming weeks to meet the expected demand.
You can also do much to prepare as individuals and
families. Already many have made the effort to learn as much as they can about
the disease, how to identify the symptoms and how to avoid getting infected or
infecting others. Many people have thought about how they can go to school or
work safely, and how they can change their shopping behaviour or how they
worship to minimise the risk of infection.
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.
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.
With best wishes,
President Cyril Ramaphosa
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