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South African Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

South Africa’s Covid-19 cases rise to 709, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says; citizens stock up on food, other essentials ahead of lockdown.

South Africa’s confirmed Covid-19 cases have risen to 709, from 554 on Tuesday, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday.

“We are now at 709 cases,” he said.

While speaking on national broadcaster SABC, the health minister noted that a church in Free State province is becoming an epicentre of the Covid-19 cases.

“At least 50 new cases have been registered from a church in the Free State,” Dr Zweli Mkhize said.

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He added that the lockdown will address internal transmission among communities, especially over the Easter period when there are large movements of people.

 "It's the mixing of people we want to limit," he said.

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would enforce a 21-day lockdown over coronavirus.

In a televised address to the nation, Ramaphosa said the lockdown would begin at midnight on Thursday and called on the country to "urgently and dramatically" escalate its response.

"Immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to avoid human costs of this virus," said Ramaphosa.

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The Head of State added that if the nation failed to act swiftly, it could face "a human catastrophe of enormous proportions."

Ramaphosa revealed that in the week since the country declared a state of national disaster, the number of confirmed cases had increased sixfold.

"The action we are taking now will have lasting economic costs. But we are sure that the cost of not acting now will be far greater," he said.

There has been panic buying in the country as people stocked up on food and other essentials ahead of a lockdown.

The country has the highest number of confirmed cases in Africa.

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