South Africa's cases leap again as 3-week lockdown looms

A screen divides a cashier, left, and customer right, at a pay point in a Spar supermarket,  in Johannesburg, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, the day after i...

A screen divides a cashier, left, and customer right, at a pay point in a Spar supermarket, in Johannesburg, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, the day after i...

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's coronavirus cases leapt again to 554 on Tuesday, the most of any country in Africa, as its 57 million people rushed to prepare for a lockdown that begins Thursday.

Across Africa, 43 of its 54 countries now have cases, with the total at 1,788. Thirteen countries have reported 58 deaths. South Africa has not recorded one.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night announced the 21-day lockdown. Rwanda and Tunisia earlier announced lockdowns.

Workers in South Africa will be required to stay home except for those in essential services including health care and security as well as the production and distribution of food, utilities and medical products.

Individuals can leave home only under "strictly controlled circumstances" to access essential items.

The country's economic hub of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, has South Africa's highest number of infections with 302, followed by the Western Cape, which includes the city of Cape Town, with 213 cases.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said officials expected the number of cases to continue to rise despite the lockdown, but changes might be seen around the end of the second or third week of the lockdown.

"We must not be shocked when we see the increase," Mkhize said.

Elsewhere in Africa, Nigeria's ban on international flights began. And Ethiopia's government issued a proposal to the G20 global forum for economic cooperation ahead of the G20 summit, saying “COVID-19 poses an existential threat to the economies of African countries."

The statement asks for a $150 billion emergency financing package for Africa. It also proposes that all interest payments to government loans, and part of the debt of low-income countries, should be written off.

African nations' economies are expected to take a severe hit from the coronavirus as borders close and trade drops.

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Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed.

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