SA has recorded its third Covid-19 death, as the national tally of confirmed cases rose to 1,326, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday night.

Acknowledging the hardship caused by the 21-day national lockdown the government put in place at midnight last Thursday, Ramaphosa said the measures were “absolutely necessary to save the lives of thousands, even tens of thousands of lives”.

Covid-19 is caused by the highly contagious SARS-Cov-2 virus and causes a potentially deadly respiratory infection that is primarily spread through droplets breathed out when infected people speak, breathe or cough.

In the three months since it emerged in China, it has raced around the world, disrupting trade and travel. By Monday evening it had sickened more than 756,000 people and left at least 36,200 dead, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The spread of the virus — for which there is no cure and no vaccine — has prompted a growing number of countries to impose stringent measures to limit interactions between people. Under the lockdown rules, everyone is expected to stay at home except for vital trips to buy food, medical supplies, or to seek health care. Schools, universities and most businesses are shuttered, and only essential services are permitted to continue operating.

In an address broadcast on national television, Ramaphosa said the government planned to roll out a massive screening programme in the days ahead. Ten thousand health-care workers would be deployed around the country to screen people for symptoms and refer them for testing. People with Covid-19 who had few symptoms would be required to self-isolate at home or go into state quarantine facilities, and those with more severe illness would be admitted to hospital, he said.

An extensive tracing system would be rapidly deployed to track down contacts of confirmed cases and to monitor the location of new cases in real time, he said.

SA’s outbreak began with imported cases, but has begun to spread from wealthy suburbs into poorer communities. The last few days have seen cases reported in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, and in Alexandra in Johannesburg.