President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

SA’s death toll from Covid-19 would have been eight times higher if the government had not taken the swift and aggressive action it did to slow transmission of the disease, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday evening.

The government declared a national state of disaster less than two weeks after SA confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on March 5, along with sweeping restrictions on travel and mass gatherings that were quickly followed a national lockdown that began on March 26.

There have so far been 219 recorded deaths from Covid-19 in SA, and about 11,350 infections.

“Without the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address

 “The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by now and the death toll could have been at least eight times higher than it is,” he added.

The lockdown had slowed transmission of the virus and bought valuable time to prepare the health system for the inevitable surge in cases when the lockdown restrictions were eased, he said.

More than 25,000 quarantine beds had been set up, and stocks of vital personal protective equipment procured, he said.

The government’s community screening and testing programme had reached 9-million people, and 100,000 had been referred for testing. That community-wide approach would now shift to a more targeted strategy aimed at hotspots where more people are likely to be infected.