The South African Covid-19 Story, One Year Later

We look at the timeline of events and the impact of the Coronavirus since it was first discovered in South Africa exactly one year ago.

Yesterday, 5 March 2021 a year ago South Africa recorded its first Covid-19 case within its borders, with a man from KwaZulu Natal testing positive for the Coronavirus.

Since that first case only 365 days ago, the virus has ravaged our country, spreading like a wildfire through its 9 provinces and all its towns and cities.

16 days after the virus entered South Africa, the President shut the country down and South Africa would be placed under stringent lockdowns to curb the spread of the dreaded virus.

Just over a month from the first recorded case on 9th April 2020, the cases had reached 1845 with 18 deaths. A hospital in Durban had to be shut due to an outbreak that caused more than 60 infections over the month, and four related Covid-19 deaths.

On 10 April 2020, Health Minister Mkhize announced that everyone venturing out in public should wear a cloth masks and on 13th April 2020, Dr Salim Abdool Karim, Chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Covid-19 announced that the lockdown was working in curbing the spread of the virus.

However, 13 days later, on 23 April 2020, the infection numbers had more than doubled to 3,953 cases. By the end of April 2020, the numbers had increased to a scary 5,647 with 103 deaths recorded.

By the end of May 2020, the total number of infections was sitting at 27,036 and 683 people had died from Covid-19. That was a jump of more than for times from the month before. By this time, it was apparent to most South Africans that the Coronavirus Pandemic posed a real and present danger to everyone in South Africa.

In June 2020, there were 118,526 new cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 151,209. The death toll rose to 2,657. In only 4 months, the Coronavirus had infected 0,3% of the total population of South Africa and 1,76% of those infected had died from the disease. In June 2020, The President decided to give South Africans a reprieve, and lifted some of the restrictions imposed earlier in March, this included the lifting on the ban of Alcohol sales and consumption in public, a decision he would later regret.

In July 2020, Hospitals were overwhelmed with trauma cases due to domestic violence and motor vehicle accidents due to the misuse and abuse of alcohol. This meant that valuable hospital beds which could have been used for Covid-19 patients had to be used for alcohol abuse related trauma. The abuse of alcohol was also related to the high infection rate experienced during the month of July 2020. By the end of July 2020, South Africa had recorded a total number of 493,183 confirmed cases and we had lost 8,005 of our fellow countrymen and women due to the pandemic. At the end of this costly month, South African Medical Facilities would be treating 159,007 active cases across the country.

In August 2020, a tired President addressed the nation once again. In his address he mentioned that the country had passed the peak of the pandemic crisis in South Africa and that restrictions would gradually be lifted. August 2020 saw the infection number rise to 606,520 with the death toll rising to 16,667.

In September, October and November 2020, additional restrictions were lifted and in November 2020, the President announced that the ban on international travel would be relaxed and that South Africans would be able to travel abroad without special permission.

The decision to relax some of the restrictions was mainly driven by the economic constraints experienced during the lockdowns since March 2020. The President was forced to reopen parts of the economy to create a sustainable environment once again for South Africans. However, by the time December came, it was clear that the infection numbers were again rising, and that action had to be taken by government to curb the spread. On 14 December 2020, the President once again addressed the nation where he announced the closure of beaches and the limiting of social gatherings. This unfortunately came during the busiest social time on the calendar for many South Africans, the Festive Season. The President also made it mandatory for everyone to wear face masks when out in public and the implementation of curfews at night.

By the end of December 2020, the total number of infections broke one million and 28,469 fellow South Africans would have lost their lives since the start of the pandemic.

With the arrival of the new year, January 2021 came with added hope after it was announced that South Africa had successfully procured a Covid-19 Vaccine which would be rolled out to frontline medical workers first. A vaccination rollout plan was tabled and was expected to be rolled out in February 2021.

Despite the news of the vaccine, numbers still rose during January 2021, with the total number of infections ending the month at 1,453,761 and the death toll at 44,164. This meant that 2,5% of the population had been infected and of them, 3% had not survived.

On 1 February 2021, the first shipment of the Indian made AstraZeneca Vaccine landed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, where a jubilant President was present in person to receive it. It was also decided to lower restrictions on 2 February as the Government had been advised that the second wave had passed despite the high numbers of infections recorded during January 2021.

On February 7, it was announced that the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine did not work well in protecting clinical trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the 501.V2 variant severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, also known as B.1.351 lineage and the vaccination programme was announced to be put on hold. However, shortly after this bad news, the President announced in an address to the nation that they have procured a supply of Covid-19 Vaccines through the pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson.

On February 17, the South African national COVID vaccination program was officially rolled out, beginning at Khayelitsha District Hospital in the Western Cape Province where healthcare workers, the President and Minister of Health were given shots of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine.

In February 2021, the total number of infections rose to 1,513,393 and the death toll rose to 49,993.

As of yesterday, in only 365 days, South Africa has recorded 1,518,979 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 50,566 have died due to the virus. In total, 2,6% of the population have been infected by Covid-19 which further breaks down to one in every 38,5 people in South Africa.

2020/21 has and still is a very tough time to be living anywhere in the world. South Africa is indeed not an island cut off from the rest of the world. Like the rest of the global population, we have been affected by this plague, this virus, this pandemic and unwanted guest.

Everything has a beginning, and everything has an end, and we believe that 2021 will be the year that we break the back of the Coronavirus Pandemic as strides are being made to eliminate the virus through vaccination.

By Abdu-Raof Hanslo

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