South Africa: Cases of COVID-19 top 500,000

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) - South Africa has surpassed 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, but President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday he sees "promising signs" that the rapid growth of cases has stabilized and that the country's strained health system is managing to cope.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced more than 10,000 new cases Saturday, bringing the country's total to 503,290 confirmed cases, along with 8,005 coronavirus related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers.

South Africa's case fatality rate - the number of deaths as a proportion of confirmed cases - is at 1.6%, significantly lower than the global average, said Ramaphosa.

So far, the number of fatalities stands at 8,153, although local researchers have recorded a jump of almost 60 percent in the overall number of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a far higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially recorded.

He was speaking during virtual national summit looking at South Africa's response to the Covid-19 pandemic on Friday morning. Other provinces, of course, are still driving the increasing numbers.

Mkhize said while the current surge in infections is not unexpected, the recovery rate of more than 60% is encouraging. And health experts have pointed to people's fear of the virus, which further prevents them from visiting a health clinic when they feel ill.

Denis Chopera, a virologist based in Durban, said: "Half a million is a significant milestone, because it shows we've entered a stage of rapid increases".

Mr Chopera added: "What we know for sure is that the figures are an underestimate and that this virus will be with us for a long time to come".

South Africa imposed a nationwide lockdown at the end of March to curb the spread of the virus, but it has now eased many restrictions to boost economic activity - as have other countries across the continent, a large chunk of whose populations are poor and face hunger.

Health experts believe that South Africa will have several peaks throughout the pandemic, but predicting the flattening of the curve has proven tricky globally.

Of the 148 deaths, 36 were recorded in the Eastern Cape, 40 in Gauteng, 41 in KwaZulu-Natal, 24 in the Western Cape and seven in Northern Cape.

He said his government is working hard with "greatest urgency" to deliver adequate supplies of personal protective equipment to areas where shortages have been reported.

More than a third of positive cases are in Gauteng province - South Africa's financial hub.

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