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By ANDREW MELDRUM, Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa has surpassed 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, but President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday he sees “promising signs” that the rapid growth of cases has stabilized and that the country's strained health system is managing to cope.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases Saturday night, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths.

South Africa has now tallied more than 50% of all reported coronavirus infections in Africa's 54 countries.

With a population of about 58 million, South Africa has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, behind the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India, all countries with significantly higher populations, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic worldwide is much higher than confirmed cases, due to limited testing and other reasons.

Ramaphosa, in a letter to the nation on Sunday, said despite the high number of confirmed cases, he sees some positive developments.

“After a rapid rise in infections over the last two months, the daily increase in infections appears to be stabilizing," said Ramaphosa. He said the number of new infections has slowed in the provinces of the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, which hosts the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

South Africa's hospitals have been stretched to the limit but in most provinces they are succeeding in providing treatment to COVID-19 patients, he said.

“The health system has so far had sufficient capacity to cope with the number of admissions,” said Ramaphosa of the hard-hit provinces of Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. He said, however, that in the Eastern Cape several public hospitals were overwhelmed and a specialist team has been deployed to help.

He said his government is working hard with "greatest urgency" to deliver adequate supplies of personal protective equipment to areas where shortages have been reported. South African authorities are also working to root out corruption in the purchase and distribution of medical equipment, he said.

“It is unconscionable that there are people who may be using this health crisis to unlawfully enrich themselves,” said Ramaphosa.

South Africa's case fatality rate – the number of deaths as a proportion of confirmed cases – is at 1.6%, significantly lower than the global average, said Ramaphosa.

“While South Africa has the fifth-highest number of total COVID-19 cases globally, we have only the 36th highest number of deaths as a proportion of the population,” said Ramaphosa. “For this, we are grateful to the work of our health professionals and the innovative treatments they have pioneered.”

South Africa also has a younger population than countries in Europe that were hard hit in the pandemic, and the virus kills elderly patients at a far higher rate than younger people.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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New Zealand suspects 4 more coronavirus infections as search ongoing to find mystery source

Health authorities in New Zealand were scrambling Wednesday to trace the source of a new outbreak of the coronavirus as the nation's largest city went back into lockdown.

Authorities had confirmed four cases of the virus in one Auckland household from an unknown source and were awaiting the test results of four more people they suspect have infections — two work colleagues and two relatives of those in the house.

The cases this week were the first known local transmission of the virus in New Zealand in 102 days.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 200 people with connections to those in the house were contacted Wednesday.

“Our plan of mass testing, rapid contact tracing and, of course, our restrictions to stop the chain of transmission has been in full swing in Auckland today," Ardern said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said one of the people who tested positive works at an Americold food cold-storage facility in Auckland, which was being swabbed to check if it was a possible source of the infections.

“We do know from studies overseas that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he said.

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Bloomfield said two of the people who had tested positive had traveled to the city of Rotorua while suffering symptoms over recent days and had visited several tourist attractions.

“People in Rotorua and indeed around the country should be vigilant about their health and seek advice if they have symptoms," he said.

Auckland was moved to Alert Level 3 at midday Wednesday, a designation initially set to continue through midnight Friday. That means that nonessential workers are required to stay home, while bars, restaurants and most businesses will be closed.

The rest of the country was moved to Alert Level 2, meaning that mass gatherings are limited to 100 attendees and people are required to socially distance themselves.

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Bloomfield said they would use genome sequencing as part of their effort to find the source of the new outbreak.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had worked quickly to impose the Auckland lockdown measures after first learning about the cases Tuesday afternoon.

She said Aucklanders were also “strongly encouraged” but not mandated to wear masks, and that authorities were releasing 5 million masks from a central supply. New Zealanders have not widely worn masks before, although authorities have been urging people to buy them or fashion them from scarves or bandannas just in case.

The nation's parliament was due to be dissolved Wednesday ahead of a general election on Sept. 19 as lawmakers hit the campaign trail. But Ardern said she was delaying the dissolution until at least Monday in case lawmakers needed to meet at short notice. She said she was also seeking advice about options for the election.

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Under New Zealand law, the government could delay the election for up to about two months. The main candidates have already canceled most of their planned upcoming campaign events.

The outbreak was found after a man in his 50s went to his doctor Monday with symptoms and was swabbed twice, testing positive both times. Three more people in his household tested positive later.

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The case has health authorities scratching their heads, as the man had not recently traveled overseas and had no immediately apparent connection with infections contained at the border.

Until Tuesday, the only known cases of the virus in New Zealand were 22 travelers held in quarantine after returning from abroad.

New Zealand has been praised globally for its virus response and had just celebrated reaching 100 days without any known community transmission.

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The South Pacific nation of 5 million initially got rid of the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in late March when only about 100 people had tested positive for the disease, stopping its spread.

Life had returned to normal for many people as they attended rugby games at packed stadiums and sat down in bars and restaurants without fear of getting infected. But some had warned that the country had become complacent.

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