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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is struggling to cope with a spike in COVID-19 cases that has already overwhelmed some hospitals, as people returning from widespread holiday travel along the coast spread the country’s more infectious coronavirus variant.
Of particular concern is Gauteng province, the country’s most populous, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Authorities say it is already seeing a spike in new infections after people traveled to coastal areas, where the variant is dominant.
“We expect that Gauteng is going to be hit very soon and very hard,” said Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “It is anticipated Gauteng will have a steep curve of increased cases and hospitalizations.”
The Steve Biko Hospital in the Pretoria area has already reached capacity and is putting COVID-19 patients into a field hospital outside the main building.
In response to the resurgence, South Africa has reimposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including banning alcohol sales, closing bars, enforcing a night curfew and limiting attendance at public gatherings including church services and funerals.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has met with his National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet over the renewed public health crisis, is expected to address the nation Monday night on the pandemic.
South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has reported 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, representing more than 30 percent of all the cases in Africa, which this week exceeded 3 million. It has reported over 33,000 virus-related deaths but experts say all numbers worldwide understate the true toll of the pandemic due to missed cases and limited testing.
South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen from 19.87 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 27 to 31.52 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 10, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The 7-day rolling average of daily deaths in South Africa has risen about 75 percent over the past two weeks, from 0.49 deaths per 100,000 people on Dec. 27 to 0.86 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 10.
Neighboring Zimbabwe is also experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, largely as a result of the high numbers of travelers between the two countries.
Zimbabwean authorities have banned families from transporting dead relatives between cities, part of new measures to stop traditional funeral rites that are believed to be increasing the spread of the disease.
The announcement stops families from taking the dead to their areas of birth for ceremonies and burial. Police have also banned public viewing of bodies and the tradition of having a corpse stay overnight in the family’s home before burial.