Last night President Cyril Ramaphosa announced there are now 1,326 confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases in South Africa. He also announced that 3 people had died from the virus.
While this snapshot is not surprising, what was unexpected is the low number of new confirmed coronavirus cases.
According to the latest stats, there were 46 new coronavirus cases on Monday. This is much lower than the single-day peak of 243 confirmed cases on 27 March.
Since 12 March there has been a steady increase in the number of new coronavirus cases in South Africa, following the same trend in other countries.
After the lockdown, the number of new cases reported has plummeted. It is, however, too soon for the lockdown to have had an effect on the number of positive tests.
The chart below shows the daily increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa in March, courtesy of the Coronavirus Awareness Dashboard.
Not a reduction in the number of infections – Health Minister
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on 28 March that the latest numbers do not indicate a reduction in the number of infections.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) explained it is actively cleaning COVID-19 patient data to ensure the information is verified and accurate.
“Data cleaning is required to conduct deduplication of contents and to correct details of patients in order to determine the most effective public health intervention,” it said.
“As such, figures may not always add up sequentially due to the activities being performed with regard to data cleaning and quality assurance of the dataset.”
It said as of 28 March, the number of COVID-19 cases had increased by 112 – bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1,187.
Even with an increase of 112 new cases, it is still lower than what was seen in the preceding 5 days. This decline continued on 29 March (93 new cases) and 30 March (46 new cases).
What makes the daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa strange is that it does not follow the same trend as in other countries.
In Italy, for example, there was a steep increase in the new daily cases until it reached a plateau.
The charts below show the new coronavirus cases per day for the United States, Italy, and Spain.
Number of tests conducted
One of the explanations for the sudden decline in the number of new coronavirus cases in South Africa, apart from the cleaning up of data, is the number of tests conducted.
Over the last three days, between 27 and 30 March, there were 3,426, 3,630, and 2,816 Covid-19 tests conducted in South Africa.
This is much lower than the 4,942 and 8,066 tests which were conducted on 25 and 26 March respectively.
The chart below shows the number of COVID-19 tests which have been conducted in South Africa each day. Please note that the daily increase on 28 March was adjusted according to the NICD update.
Many more tests planned
President Ramaphosa said that South Africa is entering a new phase in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic this week.
In the coming days, government will roll out a screening, testing, tracing, and medical management programme on a huge scale.
“Around 10,000 field workers will be visiting homes in villages, towns, and cities to screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms,” he said.
People with symptoms will be referred to local clinics or mobile clinics for testing.
People who are infected with coronavirus, but who have no or moderate symptoms, will remain in isolation at home or at a facility provided by government.
Using mobile technology, an extensive tracing system will be rapidly deployed to trace those who have been in contact with confirmed coronavirus cases.
The geographical location of new coronavirus cases will also be monitored in real time to help to fight the pandemic.