JOHANNESBURG (AP) – A shaken South Africa on Friday announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus as the country’s cases rose above 1,000 and a three-week lockdown began.
The health minister said the deaths occurred in Western Cape province, home of Cape Town. South Africa has the most virus cases in Africa, where the total across the continent is now above 3,200.
South Africaâ€™s military was in the streets helping to enforce measures that include bans on sales of cigarettes and alcohol, even dog-walking. Concerns are high about water supply and social distancing in crowded, low-income townships.
Security forces with megaphones screamed at people still on the streets shortly after midnight in downtown Johannesburg, the countryâ€™s commercial hub. Homeless people scattered, looking for places to shelter.
After daybreak, police and military forces surrounded a few dozen homeless people in downtown Johannesburg close to the main train station.
The risk of abuses was a concern. In Rwanda, which imposed a lockdown over the weekend, police have denied that two people shot dead on Monday were killed for defying the new measures.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in full military uniform, on the eve of the lockdown told troops to be a â€œforce of kindnessâ€ and reminded police that â€œour people are terrified right now and we should not do anything to make their situation worse.â€
South Africans are meant to go outside only to obtain essentials such as groceries or medical care or to provide essential services, but many have no safe place to shelter. Public transport, with limits on passengers, operates only during the usual rush hours, but complaints were reported of operators charging double the price.
Some 200 people lined up outside a shopping center in Vosloorus, a township east of Johannesburg. Some shoppers ignored calls for keep at least a meter apart, jostling.
Some people were openly scared. One caller to a popular morning radio talk show dissolved into tears: â€œI feel there’s nothing we can do,â€ he said.
Anxiety has been especially high among low-income South Africans squeezed into crowded townships, sometimes with an extended family sharing a shack of corrugated metal and little income. Fears of an increase in domestic violence and rape have been expressed by civil society groups.
And economic pain is widespread, with the country already in recession and unemployment at 29%.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak