South Africa has announced its first deaths from coronavirus infection while cases have already surpassed the 1000 mark.
The health minister said, “This morning, we South Africans wake up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19.”
Both occurrences of death took place in the southern province of Western Cape
In an effort to contain the virus and minimize spreading, security forces have begun enforcing a three-week nationwide lockdown.
All but essential movement is forbidden and both the army and the police are enforcing the measures.
Late on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited soldiers before they were deployed from a base in the Soweto township of Johannesburg.
“I send you out to go and defend our people against coronavirus,” he said, wearing a camouflage uniform.
“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.”
Security forces with megaphones screamed at people shortly after midnight in downtown Johannesburg, the country’s commercial hub. Homeless people scattered, looking for places to shelter, to the astonishment of residents who lined up on balconies and filmed the patrols with their mobile phones.
One baton-wielding officer took chase.
Some motorists were pursued, stopped and searched. “Go home,” security forces shouted. “You cannot be outside … You are so selfish.” Around 3 a.m., sustained gunfire echoed through the streets.
Under the terms, food shops are allowed to stay open, but alcohol sales are banned – and Police Minister Bheki Cele urged South Africans to stay sober during the lockdown.
Jogging and dog walking are also prohibited.
The authorities have warned that anyone violating the rules faces six months’ imprisonment or a heavy fine.
Anxiety is especially high among low-income South Africans squeezed into crowded townships with limited water supplies. Fears of an increase in domestic violence and rape have been expressed by civil society groups.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned that if people did not comply, the military will be forced to take extreme measures.
South Africa’s military helped to enforce measures that include bans on sales of cigarettes and alcohol. After daybreak, police and military forces again surrounded a few dozen homeless people in downtown Johannesburg close to the main train station.
One commuting worker told The Associated Press, that they’re putting their lives at risk saying they had little choice. “Please pray for us that are still working.”
Minibus taxis were sprayed with disinfectant before passengers boarded, leaving spaces between them, some wiping their hands.