South Africa prepares quarantine sites

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South African officials identified quarantine sites across the country on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 709 and the health minister warned infections were expected to keep rising.

South Africa reported the most coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa and public health experts worry the virus could overwhelm the health system if infection rates rise steeply.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was praised for ordering some of the toughest measures on the continent to halt the spread of the virus, including a 21-day lockdown from midnight on Thursday, deploying the army to support police and ordering underground mines to suspend operations.

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille told a news conference her ministry identified more than 16 000 beds in potential quarantine facilities, including government buildings, hotels, holiday properties and hospitals.

De Lille’s spokeswoman and a Health Ministry spokesman were not able to say who would be placed in the quarantine sites.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in an interview with state broadcaster SABC it was still “early days” in terms of infection numbers.

“We are expecting quite an increase in the number of cases,and we also expecting a lot of work needs to be done by South Africans to contain this infection,” Mkhize said.

Businesses of all sizes are bracing for impact from the lockdown, with Airlink the latest local airline to suspend flights and state power utility Eskom applying for critical staff to be exempt so electricity supplies can continue uninterrupted.

South African National Parks will close all tourism facilities from Wednesday.

Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe said production of gold, chrome, manganese and other minerals would scale down but processing of platinum group metals would continue.

The SA Reserve Bank (SARB) launched a bond-buying programme, giving in to public and political pressure to intervene more directly in providing stimulus.

Government bonds including the 2030 issue rallied on the SARB intervention.