The confirmed cases of coronavirus or COVID-19 in South Africa have crossed half a million in the country, its health ministry mentioned stated on Saturday, while cases in Africa as a whole approached a million.

The most industrialized nation of Africa confirmed 10,107 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel virus, taking the total to 503,290, the ministry mentioned.

Just over three million people have so far been tested for the virus in South Africa, which confirmed its first case five months ago, and 8,153 deaths have been recorded. Africa has recorded 934,558 cases, 19,752 deaths, and 585,567 recoveries, according to a Reuters tally. South Africa imposed a nationwide lockdown at the end of March to curb the spread of the virus, but it has now eased many restrictions to boost economic activity - as have other countries across the continent, a large chunk of whose populations are poor and face hunger.

COVID-19 in South Africa

Coronavirus
Mobile photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020 shows Gao Yongzhe and Huang Wenli adjusting goggles and masks for each other at "Wuhan Livingroom" in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Doctor Gao Yongzhe and nurse Huang Wenli are a couple working at the frontline against the novel coronavirus. Although they both spend all day at "Wuhan Livingroom", a temporary hospital, the busy couple barely had time to meet each other. On Feb. 14, under the arrangement of the hospital, the couple met and had a lunch together. As Huang put it, it was their special and meaningful 23rd Valentine's Day even though there was no flower and gift. (Photo by Gao Xiang/Xinhua/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

"The lockdown succeeded in delaying the spread of the virus by more than two months, preventing a sudden and uncontrolled increase in infections in late March," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a separate statement. As restrictions have eased, infections have spiked over the last two months.

However, the daily increase in infections appears to be stabilizing, particularly in the worst-hit Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape provinces, Ramaphosa added. The World Health Organisation's top emergency expert Mike Ryan last week warned that South Africa's experience was a precursor for what was likely to happen across the continent.

The difficulty - if not an outright impossibility - of socially distancing in Africa's poor, tightly packed urban areas, has also been an enabler for the spread of the virus. Cases in South Africa, which has the fifth-highest total in the world, have overwhelmed an already stretched healthcare system.

That presents a cautionary tale to the other African countries, whose health services are for the most part even more stretched. During August, the National Ventilator Project will deliver 20,000 locally-produced, non-invasive ventilators to where they are most needed, Ramaphosa said, as the government continues to mobilize additional facilities, equipment and personnel in provinces still experiencing an increase in infections.

(With agency inputs)