The World Health Organization (WHO) commends the government of South Africa for its determined efforts that have helped to bend the COVID-19 pandemic curve.
WHO is greatly encouraged by the ongoing measures to suppress the spread of SARs-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
To tackle the pandemic South Africa took decisive steps such as instituting response coordination mechanisms at all levels, setting up control interventions for all critical pillars of response and imposing public health and social measures, including movement restrictions, curfews, closure of businesses, schools and places of worship.
These strong public health measures helped to limit the exponential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the country to establish capacities for testing, isolation and treatment of cases and tracing and quarantine of contacts.
Over the past weeks, new COVID-19 infections have been declining. South Africa is now in the sixth consecutive week of declining number of confirmed cases, currently recording fewer than 2000 cases a day. Two months ago, it was recording about 12 000 cases daily. There has also been a steady drop in demand for hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and other essential medical needs.
However, with a cumulative 653 000 cases, the country still accounts for nearly half of all cases in Africa.
“The strong commitment and leadership by the South African government have been and continue to be instrumental in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Without this dedication we would not be where we are today,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The latest trends in South Africa are clearly encouraging. However, we must remain vigilant and be prepared to effectively tackle any resurgence. We are not yet out of the woods and so we must not relax.”
With the declining cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the easing of restrictions from alert level 2 to alter level 1 which means that mass gathering will be allowed indoors from fewer than 50 people to 50% capacity but not exceeding 250 people, overnight curfew hours have been shortened and international travel will be gradually opened to help revive the economy and allow a return to what the president called a “new normal”.
However, he emphasized that public health measures including handwashing, wearing masks in public places and physical distancing will remain in force.
“We must do all it takes to stay the course. Even as the restrictions are being relaxed, preventive measures by individuals are often the critical barrier against COVID-19 infection,” said Dr Owen Kaluwa WHO Country Representative for South Africa.
“We will continue to support the national and provincial health departments to develop plans to prevent and mitigate any resurgence until we can overcome this pandemic in South Africa.”
South Africa’s strong health system, research in health science and diagnostic capacity has provided a steady foundation to COVID-19 response in the country and in the region. At the start of the pandemic, South Africa was one of only two countries in Africa able to diagnose the virus.
Over the course of the COVID-19 response in Africa, WHO has worked closely with governments to reinforce testing, treatment, tracing of contacts, training health workers as well as helping to procure and ship essential medical equipment and supplies.
President Ramaphosa acknowledged the support of the WHO surge team of experts that has been deployed to South Africa for their contribution in supporting national and provincial efforts in key response areas.