South Africa registered more than 24,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, its highest tally of new infections since the pandemic began, as a third wave of the virus spread through a population in which just five percent have been vaccinated.
The surge in cases in Africa’s most industrialized nation has overwhelmed hospitals, especially in the main city of Johannesburg, and left overworked healthcare personnel struggling to find enough beds for critically ill patients.
Bureaucratic failures have worsened the health crisis. The South African Medical Association threatened on Thursday to take the government to court because more than 200 new junior doctors cannot find placements despite desperate staff shortages.
President Cyril Ramaphosa last Sunday announced a raft of measures, including suspension of alcohol sales and a halt of indoor dining in restaurants, for two weeks to minimize the impact of the new wave, which scientists say is driven by the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant first found in India and now circulating widely around the world.
The country’s low vaccination rate is due to a combination of factors including bad luck – the government had to destroy two million contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Ramaphosa has been highly critical of what he called global “vaccine apartheid.”
He has called on drugmakers and allied Western governments to waive their patent protections to allow emergency local manufacturing of vaccine doses, so far to no avail.
South Africa has recorded just over two million cases and more than 60,000 deaths during the pandemic, according to government data, while 3.3 million people have been vaccinated out of a population of just under 60 million.