S.Africa reports first two virus deaths as lockdown starts

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South Africa recorded its first two deaths from coronavirus on Friday as its case tally breached the 1,000 mark just hours after a three-week nationwide lockdown took effect.

“This morning we wake South Africans up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered South Africa’s 57 million people to stay at home for 21 days, joining countries across the continent in imposing strict measures to halt the spread of the disease.

But many people especially from the poor neighbourhoods, defied the order after it came into effect at midnight Thursday, lining up outside food stores or at bus terminals.

Police appeared overwhelmed in downtown Johannesburg on Friday, where hundreds of shoppers pushed and shoved trying to force their way into a supermarket.

“The lockdown is a good thing for the country, even though I feel that a lot of people and taking it for granted, saying this virus is not for us… which is bad because by the time we wake up this thing will have spread enormously in the country,” said bank employee Dumisani July, 39, wearing a mask and black latex gloves.

Mkhize said the two people died in the Western Cape province, and announced that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had topped 1,000.

The provinces’ administrators in Cape Town said the two were women aged 28 and 48.

On Thursday, Africa’s biggest industrialised economy had reported 927 confirmed cases, a jump of more than 30 percent from the previous day and Ramaphosa projected it could reach 1,500 “within a few days”.

Ramaphosa – clad in a camouflage uniform – on Thursday saw off soldiers before they deployed from a military base in Soweto township outside economic hub Johannesburg.

“This is unprecedented, not only in our democracy but also in the history of our country, that we will have a lockdown for 21 days to go out and wage war against an invisible enemy coronavirus,” he said.

During the shutdown, jogging, dog-walking and the sale of alcohol are banned across the country, which so far has the highest number of detected infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Violation of any of the regulations will carry a six-month jail sentence or a fine.

– Virus in eastern DR Congo –

Coronavirus has infected 3,340 people across all of Africa, killing 91, according to an reporters tally as of mid-day Friday.

Although this toll is far lower than in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, experts say the world’s poorest continent is especially vulnerable, given its poor sanitation, weak healthcare systems, overcrowding and conflicts.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s pointman on the pandemic said the first case of coronavirus had been detected outside Kinshasa — an individual in the trouble-torn eastern province of North Kivu, which is also the centre of a now-waning epidemic of Ebola.

As of Thursday, the DRC had 54 cases, four of them fatalities, said crisis coordinator Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe.

The DRC’s sprawling capital, Kinshasa, goes into lockdown on Saturday for four days, followed by two days to allow residents to shop followed by another four-day lockdown, in a rotation to be continued over three weeks.

A citizens’ movement called Lucha has criticised the move as “senseless” adding “the only thing that can result is a humanitarian catastrophe or riots.”

– Two shot in Uganda –

In East Africa, Ugandan police said two men were in hospital after being shot for violating transport restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“Police officers on duty to enforce a presidential directive stopped two men on a motorbike in Mukono (near Kampala) on Thursday,” Uganda metropolitan police spokesman, Patrick Onyango told media.

“They attacked one of the officers, he fired the warning shot in the air but they charged at him and he shot one of them in the leg and another in the stomach.”

President Yoweri Museveni has not ordered a shutdown, but urged people to stay home. Kenya and Rwanda in the region have also imposed restrictions.

In the Sahel, Burkina Faso, which last week recorded sub-Saharan Africa’s first death, announced that eight towns, including the capital Ouagadougou, would be quarantined for two weeks from Friday.

In Mali, the government has imposed some anti-coronavirus measures, including a night-time curfew, but said a long-delayed parliamentary election would go ahead on Sunday.

The impoverished state has scheduled the elections as a means to win back public confidence in its political system as it battles a raging jihadist revolt.

South Africa-based risk analysis firm, NKC African Economics warned that tough restrictions on mobility will be difficult to enforce in Africa.

“Most African countries will not be able to effectively implement the severe restrictions on movement that we have seen globally,” it said.

“The impracticality of implementing widespread self-quarantine in shantytowns or informal settlements means that this will not be an option.

“Mismanagement of the situation could lead to human costs far exceeding economic losses.”