South Africa hits 500,000 infections but president hopeful

South Africa has exceeded a half-million confirmed cases of COVID-19 but President Cyril Ramaphosa says he sees “promising signs” that the rapid growth of cases has stabilized and that the country’s strained health system is managing to cope

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases Saturday night, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths. South Africa has now tallied more than 50% of all reported coronavirus infections in Africa's 54 countries.

With a population of about 58 million, South Africa has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, behind the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India, all countries with significantly higher populations, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic worldwide is much higher than confirmed cases, due to limited testing and other reasons.

Ramaphosa, in a letter to the nation on Sunday, said despite the high number of confirmed cases, he sees some positive developments.

“After a rapid rise in infections over the last two months, the daily increase in infections appears to be stabilizing," said Ramaphosa. He said the number of new infections has slowed in the provinces of the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, which hosts the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

South Africa's hospitals have been stretched to the limit but in most provinces they are succeeding in providing treatment to COVID-19 patients, he said.

He said his government is working hard with "greatest urgency" to deliver adequate supplies of personal protective equipment to areas where shortages have been reported. South African authorities are also working to root out corruption in the purchase and distribution of medical equipment, he said.

“It is unconscionable that there are people who may be using this health crisis to unlawfully enrich themselves,” said Ramaphosa.

South Africa's case fatality rate – the number of deaths as a proportion of confirmed cases – is at 1.6%, significantly lower than the global average, said Ramaphosa.

“While South Africa has the fifth-highest number of total COVID-19 cases globally, we have only the 36th highest number of deaths as a proportion of the population,” said Ramaphosa. “For this, we are grateful to the work of our health professionals and the innovative treatments they have pioneered.”

South Africa also has a younger population than countries in Europe that were hard hit in the pandemic, and the virus kills elderly patients at a far higher rate than younger people.

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