Sunday, 12th July 2020

Cape Town had COVID-19 infections earlier than thought, says health official

The new coronavirus pandemic hit Cape Town much earlier than previously assumed and this helps to explain why South Africa’s main tourist hub now accounts for more than half of all infections and the most deaths, a senior health official said on Thursday.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the port city of around 4.5 million people has perplexed health authorities and emerged as a political hot potato in a province where the official opposition Democratic Alliance has governed since 2009, rather than the ruling African National Congress.

“We believe that there (was) earlier seeding than what we thought initially in terms of community transmission,” said Doctor Keith Cloete, head of the Western Cape health department.

Data released on Wednesday showed the Western Cape region had 46,555 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of a national total of 80,412.

The province also has the most deaths from the highly contagious respiratory disease, 1,243 out of a total 1,674.

Cloete said health authorities now knew “for certain” that local transmission in poorer communities, who have difficulty self-isolating in cramped and unhygienic living conditions, had taken place in Cape Town in the last two weeks of March, towards the tail-end of the summer peak tourist season.

“The testing regimen at the time... (assumed) we would only have imported cases,” he said.

At that time South Africa did not test people with symptoms unless they had travelled overseas. By the time it changed the testing protocols in April, the disease had already spread.

“For us, the reason why the cases are more is because we had earlier community transmission,” said Cloete.

Cape Town is now bracing for peak infections at the end of June or early July.

South Africa has begun relaxing its tough lockdown restrictions in a bid to revive the moribund economy.


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