'At least 80,000 could have been infected by now': Ramaphosa

13 May 2020 - 22:32 By Andisiwe Makinana
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses SA on Wednesday night.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses SA on Wednesday night.
Image: GCIS

More than 1,700 people would be dead and 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by the deadly Covid-19 virus had the government not imposed a strict lockdown nearly seven weeks ago.

“I would like to say, as I have said before, that despite its duration and its severity, the lockdown was absolutely necessary,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa in an address to the nation on Wednesday night.

“Without the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa gave the country an update on the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic from the Union Buildings in Pretoria on May 13 2020. In his address, the president discussed the country’s screening and testing numbers and cautioned against easing the nationwide lockdown too soon.

Ramaphosa said that government's response from the onset had been guided by advice from world-leading experts from this country and across the globe. SA has also benefited from the guidance of the World Health Organisation, he said.

He said the experiences from other nations had also given SA invaluable insight.

“There have been several projections about the possible path the disease would have taken without our swift and decisive action. As more data has become available, these projections have been updated and refined.

“The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by now,” said Ramaphosa.

He said the death toll could have been at least eight times higher than it is. By Wednesday night, 219 people had succumbed to the disease in SA.

Ramaphosa said that, in contrast, at a similar stage in the progression of the disease, the US had recorded more than 22,000 deaths and the UK more than 19,000 deaths.

“We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the virus and prevent a huge surge of infections. So far, we have been successful in the manner we as South Africans have responded and dealt with this virus,” he said.

The percentage of cases identified out of all the tests conducted — what is known as the “positivity rate” — had remained low and stable, while the level of confirmed infections in SA is around 181 people per million of the population.

Ramaphosa again contrasted this with countries like the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and Singapore which he said had between 2,400 and 4,600 coronavirus cases per million people.

“It is significant that out of the 12,074 confirmed cases in SA, we have recorded 4,745 recoveries.

“By delaying the spread of the disease, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of our health system and to put in place wide-ranging public health programmes to better manage the inevitable increase in infections,” he said.

Ramaphosa said there were nearly 25,000 additional beds available for quarantine. The government had also sourced and produced substantial quantities of personal protective equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies.

“Using the valuable time which the lockdown gave us, we have managed to significantly expand our screening and testing programme. In all, our field workers have now screened over 9-million people, and we have conducted nearly 370,000 coronavirus tests.

“This is the largest and most extensive public health mobilisation in the history of our country,” he said.

Ramaphosa commended South Africans for complying with the lockdown regulations saying they have demonstrated great courage, resilience and responsibility.