JOHANNESBURG – Coronavirus cases in South Africa’s economic heartland are rising more rapidly than expected at about 3,000 new infections a day, and the government may consider imposing tighter restrictions, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.
The surge in the province of Gauteng, which includes the commercial hub of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, represents a near 15-fold increase since the start of June, Mkhize said on Twitter Tuesday. The number of infections will probably surpass the Western Cape, which has so far been the epicenter of the epidemic.
“The surge is on the way,” Mkhize said. “Particularly in Gauteng the numbers are locking up faster than anticipated. We want to plead to people to use the masks, hand washing, social distancing.”
Earlier forecasts predicted a nationwide surge between late July and September. South Africa, which has the most confirmed cases on the continent, reached 144,264 cases and 2,529 deaths on Monday, with 61,375 infections in the Western Cape province and 39,841 in Gauteng, according to the Health Ministry. Gauteng accounts for a third of output in South Africa’s $368 billion economy.
Even though there hasn’t been any decision taken to reinstate a lockdown, there may be a need for localized restrictions in the future, Mkhize said, without specifying which areas could be affected. The government imposed a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27 that was eased in recent weeks to allow millions of people to return to work. That triggered a “large inward movement of people” toward Gauteng, Mkhize said in an earlier statement on June 28.
“We could not sustain the lockdown the way it was,” he said on Twitter. “We needed people to get back to their jobs and for the economy to be revived.”