South Africa Steps Up Travel Bans as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Mike Cohen and Janice Kew

(Bloomberg) --

South Africa stepped up travel bans as the coronavirus continued to spread at a rapid pace and the country confirmed more instances of local transmission.

The number of people that tested positive rose to 116 on Wednesday from 85 the day before, and 14 of those hadn’t traveled outside the country, the Department of Health said in an emailed statement. Six children under the age of six have been diagnosed with the disease.

The department has begun releasing virus-test results conducted by private laboratories as soon as they are available, rather than waiting for confirmation by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. The decision was taken to improve transparency, and the public would be informed should the institute produce contrary results, it said on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the virus a national disaster on Sunday and imposed travel bans on people who recently visited eight of the hardest-hit nations -- the U.S., the U.K., China, Spain, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Germany. The restriction was extended to Switzerland and France on Tuesday and visas that have already been issued will be revoked.

Ramaphosa has also shut schools and 35 of the nation’s land ports, and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people. The government has said it will consider imposing a state of emergency if those restrictions don’t have the desired effect.

South Africa’s number of cases is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 200 infections have been confirmed. The case-count has been highest in three provinces -- Gauteng, the nation’s economic heartland, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, according to Health Ministry data.

SA Express Pty Ltd., a state-owned airline, said it would suspend operations until further notice from Wednesday. All passengers will be accommodated on alternative flights, while all non-critical staff would be placed on compulsory leave, it said in an emailed statement.

(Updates number of infections in second paragraph)

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