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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.

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“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.

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

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US cruises are off through October after infections overseas

With new coronavirus clusters sprouting aboard ships overseas, the U.S. cruise industry is extending its suspension of operations through October.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents more than 50 companies and 95% of ocean-going cruise capacity, said Wednesday that if conditions in the U.S. change, it would consider allowing short, modified sailings.

A no-sail order for U.S. waters initially issued by the Centers for Disease Control in March has been extended through Sept. 30. The CLIA has extended its travel suspension twice.

A Norwegian cruise line halted all trips and apologized Monday after a coronavirus outbreak aboard one vessel infected at least 5 passengers and 36 crew. Health authorities fear the ship may have spread the virus to dozens of towns and villages along the west coast of Norway. The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first to resume sailing in June, offering cruises from Germany to Norway.

Positive coronavirus tests have also been reported this week on cruise ships in Italy and Tahiti.

The risk of infection aboard a cruise ship is elevated because of the close quarters. Between March and July, there were 2,973 reported cases of COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses about ships in U.S. waters, according to the CDC. As of July 10, there were still 14,702 crew members aboard 67 ships.

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line, both based in Florida, are working together with a panel of health experts to develop plans for preventing and treating COVID-19 at sea. Details are expected later this month.

The industry has been devastated by the pandemic. Each day that ships remain inactive costs $110 million in economic activity, according to the CLIA. States that rely on the cruise industry, like Florida, Texas and Alaska, have been hit particularly hard.

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