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JOHANNESBURG - The South African government’s “brutal and heavy-handed” approach to enforcing the country’s three-week lockdown amid the coronavirus outbreak has been called into question amid reports of one man being shot and four children reportedly injured in an alleged altercation with authorities.
Reports out of Vosloorus, located to the immediate east of Johannesburg, said that a police officer and a security official have been arrested for murder following the altercation that left a man dead.
“The allegations are that police were on patrol, enforcing the COVID-19 regulations, and they noticed some males who were drinking liquor,” said Sontaga Seisa of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
Under South Africa’s coronavirus regulations, drinking in public is illegal. Those seen drinking turned against the police, claims Seisa, and “other community members also joined and attacked police officials.”
“The police then retaliated. There was a person who was shot and killed,” Seisa added. Four children, ages 5 to 11, were also injured.
Police, supported by the South African army, are patrolling the country’s streets, enforcing a 21-day, stay-at-home lockdown.
But, particularly in poor areas, many say they have no choice but to be out buying food and other essential items as they have just been paid, or are receiving pension payouts.
Overnight a Johannesburg reporter tried to lay a charge against police, who could be seen on video firing, allegedly with live ammunition, close to her while dispersing people standing on a mid-town street.
A joint police and army patrol in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township were caught on camera forcing several men to perform squat jumps or roll on their sides through muddy water puddles, after being found reportedly out of their houses without any good reason.
The police investigative unit believes some people “are just taking this as a holiday, drinking and going against the regulations,” reported ENCA-TV’s Heidi Giokos.
South Africa’s police minister, Bheki Cele, appeared to agree, saying some are just out for an outing, “chilling."
But many of South Africa’s poor say they have no choice but to be out on the streets.
“People in the townships live hand to mouth, relying on daily wages to purchase food for their needs. They do not have a stockpile of food. For many, staying at home means going hungry,” Dr. Leaza Jernberg, independent analyst and researcher, told Fox News.
In an address to the nation late Monday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged people to respect the lockdown and stay at home.
“Let us not make the mistake of thinking this is someone else’s problem. It infects the rich and the poor, the young and the old, black and white,” he said, announcing the number of infections in the country is at 1,326 with 3 deaths.
Ramaphosa said the government is rolling out an aggressive pro-active screening and testing program and promised that in the next few days, 10,000 field workers will start visiting both cities and villages screening and testing people in their homes. Using mobile technology, teams will be able to identify positive cases, he claimed,
The elderly, those said to be most at most risk from the virus, have today started queuing for their monthly social grants.
This weekend the Sunday World newspaper’s front page was filled with a two-word headline: “TOWNSHIP TIMEBOMB.”
Hours later, the first coronavirus case was reported in Cape Town’s largest township Khayelitsha, a district full of shacks crammed right up against each other.
The virus arriving in Khayelitsha “is extremely worrying,” Jernberg said.
“Containing the spread of the virus in this situation will be incredibly difficult and it will threaten the stability of the health care system,” she said. “It is hard to imagine a scenario where the spread of Covid-19 to a township is not catastrophic.”
Jernberg added: “Many of these shacks do not have a window and it can be unbearable for people to remain inside for hours at a time, particularly in daylight hours.”
These street challenges to combatting the coronavirus are common across many African countries.
“We are already ruined. What more harm can coronavirus do?" a street hawker in Harare, Zimbabwe, told the local IOL website.
The country has failed to recover economically after the late President Robert Mugabe’s disastrous rule, with The World Health Organization claiming 7 million Zimbabweans need aid.
Another trader told reporters: “It’s better to get coronavirus while looking for money than to sit at home and die from hunger.”
Another resident added, “It’s either you win coronavirus, or you win starvation”.
The coronavirus could also hit Africa’s young hard, pediatric surgeon Neema Kaseje, founder of the Surgical Systems Research Group, wrote in the World Economic Forum’s agenda platform.
“Malnutrition, anemia, malaria, HIV/AIDs, and tuberculosis are likely to increase the severity of COVID-19. Africa may not see the same narrative of ‘most people who get it will be fine’ play out.”
Kaseje told Fox News on Monday that “severe forms of COVID-19 lead to respiratory failure requiring ventilation support.”
“In Liberia for example, there are no intensive care units (ICU) with ventilators. Uganda has 0.1 ICU beds per 100,000 population. In contrast, the United States has 34.7 beds per 100,000 population,” she said.