South Africa Begins lockdown As It Records Its First Two COVID-19 Deaths

Africa News

South Africa has recorded its first two deaths from coronavirus on Friday as its case tally breached the 1,000 mark just hours after a three-week nationwide lockdown took effect. According to the health ministry, the deaths were women aged 28 and 48 in the Western Cape province.

"This morning we wake South Africans up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered South Africa's 57 million people to stay at home for 21 days, joining countries across the continent in imposing strict measures to halt the spread of the disease. But many people especially from the poor neighbourhoods, defied the order after it came into effect at midnight Thursday, lining up outside food stores or at bus terminals.

Police appeared overwhelmed in downtown Johannesburg on Friday, where hundreds of shoppers pushed and shoved trying to force their way into a supermarket.

"The lockdown is a good thing for the country, even though I feel that a lot of people and taking it for granted, saying this virus is not for us... which is bad because by the time we wake up this thing will have spread enormously in the country," said bank employee Dumisani July, 39, wearing a mask and black latex gloves.

On Thursday, Africa's biggest industrialised economy had reported 927 confirmed cases, a jump of more than 30 per cent from the previous day and Ramaphosa projected it could reach 1,500 "within a few days".

Ramaphosa -- clad in a camouflage uniform -- on Thursday saw off soldiers before they deployed from a military base in Soweto township outside economic hub Johannesburg.

"This is unprecedented, not only in our democracy but also in the history of our country, that we will have a lockdown for 21 days to go out and wage war against an invisible enemy coronavirus," he said.

During the shutdown, jogging, dog-walking and the sale of alcohol are banned across the country, which so far has the highest number of detected infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Violation of any of the regulations will carry a six-month jail sentence or a fine.