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S.Africa president warns virus resurge would ‘choke’ economy

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday warned of the risk of a second wave of coronavirus infections that would “choke the green shoots of economic recovery” if citizens dropped their guard.

Africa’s most industrialised economy, already in recession before the pandemic, was battered by months of strict restrictions to stem the spread of Covid-19.

The country is now at the lowest level of a five-tier lockdown. Almost all businesses have reopened and daily life has shifted into a new normal, in which face masks are still mandatory and large gatherings discouraged.

“It is all the more critical at this time, more so with the festive season approaching, that we do not become architects or our own undoing,” Ramaphosa wrote in a weekly letter to the nation.

“A resurgence at any scale will not just dramatically reverse our health gains. It will choke the green shoots of economic recovery that have emerged, and take us back from spring to winter.”

Ramaphosa’s warning came amid a string of second lockdowns in Europe prompted by a resurge in coronavirus cases as winter descends on the northern hemisphere.

The president called for “greatest vigilance” to “keep the virus at bay” and warned citizens not to forget to take precautions during the upcoming southern summer break.

“When we fail to wear a mask at a social gathering, when we attend crowded events… we are also putting our economic recovery in jeopardy,” he wrote.

South Africa reined in the continent’s worst coronavirus outbreak, peaking at an average of 12,000 cases detected daily in July.

The increase has since dropped and remained relatively stable in recent months. To date the country has recorded just over 737,200 cases and 19,800 deaths for a population of more than 59 million.

But experts and health officials have noticed localised infection spikes in part of the south.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who tested positive for Covid-19 last month, at the time said “the risk of resurgence remains high”.

“It would be irresponsible for us to ignore the small flames that we see redeveloping,” he warned.