Covid-19 in South Africa

After one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, South Africa eased its restrictions relatively quickly. The consequences are noticeable in the current "second wave". The country has been hit hardly by the corona pandemic. An overview.

Published on: 20.02.2021, Jessica Bönn

A year ago

Beginning of the corona pandemic in South Africa - 5th March 2020.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the first positive test in the country on March 5th, 2020. The pandemic arrived in South Africa with a male patient who returned to South Africa from a trip to Italy in March 2020. President Cyril Ramaphosa then announced the national emergency state on March 15th, 2020 - quite quickly after the first confirmed patient in the country had been identified. With an almost immediate border closure, the closing of all schools on March 18th and a national “shutdown” with a prohibition of the sale of alcohol and tobacco, as well as a curfew and a permitted radius of only 5 kilometres outside one's own place of residence - South Africa run one of the toughest lockdowns in the whole world. Even the military was called in to enforce the bans, if necessary by force.

The government declared the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages with the need of relieving emergency departments of hospitals. The ban did not only apply to bars, but also to supermarkets and liquor stores. In the view of many people, the ban of alcoholic beverages absolutely made sense as South Africa has major problems with traffic accidents caused by alcohol, as well as with alcohol-related violence. Other major social problems such as the high level of crime, violence and violence against women (#genderbasedviolence) will also have favored the decision to temporarily ban alcohol.
Numerous hospitals reported that far fewer victims of violence and accidents were admitted to the emergency rooms during the prohibition period. On the other hand, however, the strict alcohol ban also damaged an incredible number of jobs in the country which are related to the alcohol industry and the huge wine-sector, for example in the Cape Town “Winelands”.

The second corona wave picked up speed in December 2020, during South Africa's midsummer and actual main season. As a result, the measures were tightened again, the sale of alcohol was banned again, beaches were closed and the curfew was tightened again.

Due to currently (as of February 2021) still very strict restrictions and / or partial re-entry bans in European countries (such as Germany due to the new mutation from South Africa), the tourist crowds in South Africa have stayed away this year. This was particularly noticeable in Cape Town - the big queues at Table Mountain, one of the new seven wonders of nature, were absent. On the otherwise densely packed beaches you were only able to hear the water. Even if nature definitely enjoys the break from the tourist crowds, the missing tourists are devastating for the countless people who live off the tourism industry.

In general, Corona hits the country South Africa incredibly hard. With around 1 million infections, it is the most severely affected country on the African continent. Obviously, recommendations such as “hand washing” or “social distancing” cannot be practised by the people living in the densely populated informal settlements, who live in tiny shacks and lack their own access to water and sanitary facilities.

The media report that the African continent has come through the pandemic miraculously well so far. The BBC writes that the African continent is home to around 17% of the world's human population, but only accounts for an estimated 3% of the reported global death toll from Covid-19 [1]. Of course, these numbers raise questions. On the one hand, the African continent will test far less than Europe. On the other hand, it is also worth taking a look at the age structure of the continent: South Africa has around 58 million inhabitants. It is the country with the most corona infections (around 1.5 million) and also the most corona deaths (around 48.000) in Africa. Only around 3 million residents of the total 58 million are over 65 years old, that is around 5%. If you compare for example Germany's most populous federal state North-Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) with South Africa, you can see that NRW alone (with around 18 million inhabitants) has 3.8 million people who are already over 65 years old, that is around 21%. South Africa, and the African continent in general, have a significantly younger population than, for example, Germany.
African countries could benefit from their young age structure in view of the pandemic. Scientists assume that possibly more than a quarter of South African residents or possibly more than a third were already infected with the Corona-Virus during the first wave in 2020. So far, however, these are only hypotheses. In reality, the death rate could also be much higher than reported.

All in all the pandemic has certainly hit the country of South Africa extremely hard and even more people than already before are fighting for their existence. In addition, it is currently becoming apparent in South Africa that the vaccine by AstraZeneca can only inadequately protect high-risk patients or help patients with severe courses. It is important to continue to carefully watch the situation and to distribute vaccines in solidarity.

 [1]. BBC -