South Africa reports 24-hour record of 1,160 new coronavirus cases

People exercise during an allocated exercise window in lockdown in Cape Town on May 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa on Sunday (May 17) reported 1,160 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily number since the first case was recorded in March, data released by the Health ministry showed.

"As of today, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa is 15,515 with 1,160 new cases identified in the last 24 hour cycle of testing," said the ministry statement.

The Western Cape province, popular with tourists, accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the national numbers.

The numbers of deaths rose by three to 263 from Saturday.

Africa's most industrialised economy has the highest numbers of infections in Africa, followed by Egypt, which has so far recorded 11,719 Covid-19 cases, including 612 deaths.

The country has been under a lockdown since March 27 - one of the world's most stringent confinements which include a ban on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.

It has since embarked on an aggressive mass-testing strategy, with 460,873 people tested so far.

But some health experts are beginning to see the limits of the country's lauded mass screening strategy, with results taking up to two weeks to come through.

The government has started to partially ease the lockdown regulations and is doing so in phases.

The economic costs of the lockdown have stoked disagreement in some quarters, with at least one adviser recently criticising certain aspects of the restrictions.

The opposition has also grown increasingly critical of the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa's response to the outbreak.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party on Thursday filed a legal suit challenging the rationale behind some of the coronavirus lockdown rules.

On Sunday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize came to Mr Ramaphosa's defence and appealed for national unity in the fight against coronavirus.

"We need to be working together, we need to be united, we need to be strong to face this pandemic," he said in a eulogy at a memorial for a senior ruling ANC official and medical doctor who succumbed to Covid-19 related illness.

Doctor Clarence Mini died last week aged 69 after being hospitalised for more than a month.

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Mr Mkhize said Mr Ramaphosa was doing "outstanding" work and that his decisions were informed by science.

"When there are people who are concerned whether there is science behind the decisions taken, there can only be science about it because we work with a whole group of medical experts who have various views. But at the end of the day, we remain confident that the approaches we have taken are the best. There is a lot that is unknown about the disease which we might actually teach the world about or learn from the world about," said Mr Mkhize.

He added: "We just need to work together united and strong - until we see this outbreak through."

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