South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday he was worried about the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country and defended a lockdown that has remained in place since March 27 to try and slow transmissions down, although some rules have since been relaxed.

In a weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said the total number of cases would pass the 50,000 mark in the coming week, while fatalities would also likely surpass 1,000.

“Like many South Africans, I too have been worried as I watch these figures keep rising,” he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency/ANA

“While these numbers are broadly in line with what the various models had projected, there is a big difference between looking at a graph on a piece of paper and seeing real people becoming infected, some getting ill and some dying.”

He said the lockdown, which the government has relaxed to level 3 from the maximum level 5, had given the country time to prepare health facilities and interventions for the expected spike in infections.

As of Sunday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa was at 48,285, out of which 998 people had lost their lives, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said.

On Monday, Ramaphosa said the number of infections was probably rising faster than most people had imagined, a cause for concern but not alarm.

“As we have shown, we can slow the spread of the disease, and we should continue to take all measures possible to continue to flatten the infection curve,” he wrote in his newsletter.

Picture: Damian Dovarganes/AP

He said the country was intensifying the programme of screening, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, isolation.

“Over the coming weeks, as we watch the coronavirus infections continue to rise, we must remember that we are not helpless,” he said.

“And we should remember one simple, but fundamental, message: Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared.”

-ANA, editing by Stella Mapenzauswa