South Africa has moved into the dubious position of having the fifth highest known Covid-19 cases globally, at over 382,000, and rising rapidly at around 12,500 per day
South Africa’s initial tough lockdown response bought time during which treatment protocols were refined, in part by force of circumstance, becoming much better than those used in the USA or Europe.
This has resulted in far fewer deaths overall at 5,173, or about 9 per 100,000 of population – but possibly as high as 22 when counting statistical “excess deaths”.
Even with “excess deaths” included, South Africa’s figures are still less than half that of more developed countries.
Despite the potentially positive implications for Covid-19 treatment in the rest of Africa, the picture remains bleak as the virus creates and perpetuates many problems.
CABINET MINISTERS INFECTED
The extent of the virus’s reach has been driven home in recent days with two of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet ministers — one the ruling's African National Congress (ANC) party’s chair — in hospital with the virus after testing positive last week.
With no official or family statements forthcoming, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe is considered at serious risk of losing his life or to be seriously affected due to age and possible co-mordibities.
As serious politically as this may be, since the balance of power at the very top of the ruling party may be in question, amid the Covid storm it is currently a relative non-issue.
Covid-19 has highlighted longstanding problems such as unemployment, poverty, hunger and socio-economic inequality, while introducing many new problems, including potential mass starvation.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) has threatened its ANC ruling party ally over relaxed matatu carrying capacity from 70 to 100 per cent, saying this is a recipe for disaster since matatus carry at least 80 per cent of commuters daily.
Teacher representative bodies are also increasing pressure on the Ramaphosa Covid task team not to push ahead with staggered return to school learning, as planned, demanding instead that schools close again.
They cite danger to themselves and scholars as this issue is being wrangled over, both in South Africa and the USA, where some states have chosen the Kenyan option of effectively writing off this academic year or doing online learning only.
The tensions between forces demanding the reopening of society and the economy, and those warning of disaster from opening too much too soon without testing and tracing fully in place, are intensifying along with the Covid storm.
Already in South Africa, 30 per cent of restaurants — heavily hit by the country's tough Covid-19 response regulations banning alcohol sales — have closed permanently, and half the remainder say they may never open again.
At risk are over 140,000 jobs, a point being driven home by restaurant owners and employees who have taken to the streets in protest of their plight.
Restaurant owners have put up emergency measures to the Ramaphosa government to save their businesses, and many jobs, through allowing limited and controlled alcohol sales, their largest revenue-earner.