The government was considering new measures to tackle the outbreak amid the threat of a new, rapidly spreading variant.
South Africa has reported at least a million cases of the coronavirus since its first case was confirmed in March, the health ministry said on Sunday evening, just days after a new, faster-spreading variant of the virus has been confirmed as booming in the country.
“Today, we have passed one million cumulative cases of COVID-19 in South Africa, with a cumulative total of 1,004,413 reported cases,” the ministry said in a statement.
The total number of deaths rose to 26,735.
The epidemic in the most affected country in Africa appears to be accelerating, the million mark crossed nine days after the country reported 900,000 cases. It took South Africa two weeks to reach 900,000 cases, up from 800,000 in early December.
Several hospitals and medical centers have reported wards overflowing with patients with many health workers canceling vacations to cope with a massive influx of patients.
Mediclinic International, among South Africa’s top three private hospital networks, said on Sunday that a sharp increase in cases had placed considerable pressure on its health resources, including staff, equipment and beds for critically ill patients.
“The number of patients seeking care in our hospitals exceeded previous figures during the first peak and the majority of our intensive care and intensive care units are operating at full capacity,” the company said, referring to the province of Western Cape.
The new variant, called 501.V2, was discovered by a team of scientists from across South Africa who followed the genetics of the virus. The variant appears to be concentrated in the south and southeast of the country and dominates the results of samples collected since October, they said.
The Coronavirus Command Council, the main government body monitoring the disease, met on Sunday to decide whether other measures such as a tighter lockdown or tighter rules on public traffic should be imposed, according to local media News24. President Cyril Ramaphosa could deliver a televised speech later this week.
The number of daily cases in South Africa has already passed the peak in July. On December 25, it reported a record 14,796 cases.
Since the announcement of the new variant, several countries have canceled flights to the country and banned South African nationals.
South Africa has reported the most COVID-19 cases in Africa, followed by Morocco and Egypt.