South Africa, the country most affected by the coronavirus on the continent, has entered a second wave of the pandemic, the health minister declared Wednesday.
“As it stands as a country we now meet that criteria,” Zweli Mkhize said in a statement, as the country registered nearly 7,000 new cases in the last 24-hour cycle.
The country now counts 828,598 infections after 6,709 new cases were detected between Tuesday and Wednesday.
South Africa had reined in its first wave which occurred in July at an average of 12,000 cases detected daily.
Numbers then gradually came down, at a point dropping below 1,000 in September.
The minister said the number of new infections detected in parts of the country suggest that “we should expect faster rising numbers with a higher peak than in the first wave”.
Most of the cases have been detected in the southern parts of the country, including Cape Town.
Mkhize said the new cases recorded over the last two days have mostly been found in the 15-19 year age group.
The infections are believed to have been fuelled by recent “super spreader” year-end parties where young people drank alcohol and failed to wear masks or respect observe distancing.
The minister warned that the health care system could be “overwhelmed” if large gatherings were not banned.
A surge in infections in the Eastern Cape province has already created that situation in hospitals there since mid-November, according to the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Experts fear it will spread further during the upcoming summer holiday, when people cross provinces to spend Christmas and New Year with loved ones.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned that a second wave of coronavirus infections would “choke” any economic recovery.
Official data published on Tuesday showed the economy bounced back strongly in the third quarter from a slump inflicted by the pandemic.
Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 13.5 percent quarter-on-quarter in July-September, mainly due to the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, according to the statistics agency.
Last week Ramaphosa imposed new localised restrictions to stem a resurgence of Covid-19 in the southern regions of the country.
The country accounts for more than a third of the cases reported across the African continent. So far, the virus has 22,574 lives there.