South Africa's total Covid-19 cases cross one million mark

South Africa's total coronavirus infections since the first case in March crossed a million on Sunday, its Health Ministry said, just days after a new faster spreading variant was confirmed to be present in the country.

JOHANNESBURG (REUTERS, AFP) - South Africa's total coronavirus infections since the first case in March crossed a million on Sunday (Dec 27), its Health Ministry said, just days after a new faster spreading variant was confirmed to be present in the country.

The grim milestone comes nine days after the country, the worst hit in Africa, reported 900,000 cases.

The country had taken two weeks to reach 900,000 from the 800,000 seen early in December.

Several hospitals and medical centres have reported wards overflowing with patients, with many healthcare workers cancelling their vacations to tackle a huge influx of patients.

Mediclinic International, among the top three private hospital networks in the country, said on Sunday that a severe rise in cases had placed a very heavy strain on available healthcare resources including staff, equipment and beds to provide intensive treatment for seriously ill patients.

"The numbers of patients seeking care within our hospitals has exceeded previous numbers during the first peak and the majority of our ICU and High Care units are operating at capacity," the company said, referring to the Western Cape province.

The new variant, referred to as 501.V2, was discovered by a network of scientists around South Africa who have been tracking the genetics of the virus.

The variant appears to be focused in the south and south-east of the country and has been dominating findings from samples collected since October, they say.

The Coronavirus Command Council, the top government body monitoring the disease, met on Sunday to decide on whether further measures such a tighter lockdown or stricter rules on public movement should be imposed, according to local media News24.

"Today, we have breached one million cumulative cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, with a cumulative total of 1,004,413 cases reported," the ministry said in a statement late on Sunday.

The total number of deaths touched 26,735.

The number of daily rise in infections has already crossed the July peak when the cases topped just shy of 14,000. Daily infections on Dec 25 were the highest so far at 14,796 cases.

Since the new variant was announced, several countries have cancelled flights to the country, pounding the already bruised travel and tourism sector.

South Africa is the hardest hit country on the African continent. Morocco is the second hardest hit, with 432,079 cases and 7,240 deaths, followed by Egypt with 131,315 cases and 7,352 fatalities, Tunisia with 130,230 infections and 4,426 deaths, and Ethiopia with 122,413 and 1,901 respectively.

Africa has not been as hard hit by the coronavirus as other regions, such as Europe with more than 25 million infections, the United States with 19.5 million, Latin America and the Caribbean with 15 million, Asia with 13.7 million and the Middle East with close to four million.