South Africa reports first two coronavirus deaths as lockdown begins

South Africa recorded its first two deaths from the novel coronavirus on Friday as the number of confirmed cases breached the 1,000 mark just hours after a three-week nationwide lockdown swung into action.

“This morning we wake South Africans up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered the 57-strong population of Africa’s most industrialized nation to stay at home for 21 days, joining other countries across the continent which have imposed strict measures to halt the spread of the disease.

But many people defied the order which came into effect at midnight Thursday, lining up outside food stores or at bus terminals.

Police appeared overwhelmed in downtown Johannesburg on Friday where hundreds of shoppers pushed and shoved trying to force their way into a supermarket.

“The lockdown is a good thing for the country, even though I feel that a lot of people and taking it for granted, saying this virus is not for us which is bad because by the time we wake up this thing will have spread enormously in the country,” said bank employee Dumisani July, 39, wearing a mask and black latex gloves.

Mkhize said the two people died in the Western Cape province, and announced that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have topped 1,000.

On Thursday, the country had reported 927 confirmed cases, a jump of more than 30 per cent from the previous day, with Ramaphosa projecting it could reach 1,500 “within a few days”.

Kenya, Rwanda and Mali are some of the African countries that have imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has been confirmed to have infected more than 3,200 people and killed 89 across the continent.

Although Africa’s toll is far lower than in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, health experts say the world’s poorest continent is especially vulnerable and the figures likely fall far short of the reality.