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Mkhize leaves no stone unturned


Tracking those who have been infected

HEALTH Minister Zweli Mkhize is leaving no stone unturned in tracking those who may have been infected with Covid-19.

In the Ministerial briefing held yesterday, Mkhize drew particular attention to the four day church meeting held from March 9 to 14 by Divine Restoration Ministries in Bloemfontein, at which 300 people attended.

Five of the seven visitors from abroad who attended the church gathering have tested positive for the Coronavirus, and Mkhize is calling for all of those who attended the gathering to urgently contact the Department of Health. 

Mkhize issued a stern warning to those who fail to comply with such a call saying.

“If a person does not give their details when asked, they can go to prison for up to ten years, and we will make a public announcement and disclose their name,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize praised religious leaders in the country for cancelling religious gatherings which he called “a huge act of patriotism.”

He reminded South Africans that 60% of confirmed cases in South Korea came from infections spread by a church. In that case the Pastor refused to adhere to social distancing, banned face masks, and initially refused to divulge the names of congregants.

He acknowledged that the number of those infected with Covid-19 worldwide, which stood at 382 000 yesterday, is much higher than initially thought with Italy having the highest number of infections, followed by the US, Spain, Germany, Iran, France, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK.

South Korea had previously had the second highest infections after China, but has been successful in its efforts to flatten the curve, and now stands at over 9 000 infections compared to Italy’s figure yesterday of 63 000. Mkhize noted that the outbreak in various countries is largely dependent on the response of individual nations, and behavioural factors are also an issue. 

“At the rate at which numbers are increasing we still expect numbers to increase for the next week, but once our program tightens up we should start seeing an inflection of the curve towards the end of the 2nd or 3rd week,” Mkhize said. 

South Africa’s strategy in flattening the curve is to allow infection to be drawn out with as few people becoming infected as possible so as not to overwhelm the health services.

Mkhize identified a particularly risky area as being those who have come from affected countries who may be carrying the virus unknowingly and spreading it, hence the numbers of such individuals are being limited.

“75% of those South Africans who have tested positive have a history of travel to those highly affected countries, and 25% have had direct links to them,” Mkhize said.

He highlighted the importance of freezing movement in the country for the next period given that 16 million South Africans travel daily on public transport in taxis and trains.

But a key message coming out of the press conference was that the lockdown which has been announced, and will go into effect at midnight tomorrow, does not solve the problem.

In China 75% of infections were spread in family settings and in smaller groups, which makes the battle against the spread of the virus all the more onerous.

Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, announced that 22 products will be monitored by the Competition Commission to ensure that there are no unnecessary price hikes.

The Commission will monitor basic foods such as rice, maize meal, milk, meat and canned vegetables, as well as hygiene products, surgical masks and gloves. 

Patel noted that the government is investigating 11 firms for abusing the situation and selling at higher prices unjustifiably, and assured that prosecutions will follow. 

“Firms will be fined R1 million, up to 10% of their turnover, or face one year in jail,” Patel said. 

Minister for Rural Development and Land Reform Thoko Didiza said that the government will spend R1.2 billion to ensure food supply, and assured South Africans that the country is self-sufficient in food supplies.

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