Coronavirus testing teams in South African townships

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The South African government is sending testing teams to the country’s townships as it ramps up efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

South African officials imposed some of the toughest restrictions on the continent to fight the virus, including deploying the national defence force to support police during a 21-day lockdown that started on Friday.

Mkhize said concerns about internal transmission of the virus in townships, where crowded conditions offer a fertile breeding ground for the coronavirus, meant the response needed to be stepped up.

“We won’t be going to all townships at the same time, we are targeting those where we want to deal with identified cases of positive people or contacts,” Mkhize told a news conference. “We are scaling up the intervention.”

Mkhize said testing teams would initially focus on “hotspots” where infection rates were highest and they would be supported by non-governmental organisations.

He said the number of confirmed cases in South Africa rose to 1 353 and five deaths, up from three fatalities announced on Monday by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mkhize said government was hoping to double the size of its tracing teams, from around 5 000, with the help of community health workers, nurses and NGOs.

A Reuters reporter saw health workers taking swabs from people with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Alexandra township, Johannesburg.

Two patients on stretchers were taken to a waiting ambulance.

Nono Zitha, a local resident, was nervous about her test results.

“This sickness is a serious disease, people are dying, so before you get the results you are scared because you don’t know where you stand,” she said.