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South Africa's coronavirus cases cross 900,000: health ministry

FILE PHOTO: A girl wearing a protective mask looks on through a bus window, as schools reopen amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, South Africa August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s total reported coronavirus cases surpassed 900,000 on Friday, just a fortnight after it reported crossing 800,000, signaling a rapid rise in infections in the country battling a second wave.

South Africa, hardest hit on the continent, reported its first case in March and saw peak infections in July when daily cases almost touched 14,000.

The rise in daily infections, which had eased in the last few months with reports of daily new cases between 1,000 and 2,000 till mid-November, reached 8,725 with 274 deaths, the health ministry said in a statement.

So far the country has reported 24,285 deaths.

South Africa has identified a new variant of the coronavirus that is driving a second wave of infections, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said earlier on Friday, days after Britain said it had also found a new variant of the virus boosting cases.

“We have convened this public briefing today to announce that a variant of the SARS-COV-2 Virus - currently termed 501.V2 Variant - has been identified by our genomics scientists here in South Africa,” he said in a tweet.

Africa’s most industrialized country is fast approaching its July peak. Friday’s milestone comes just after 15 days, that is Dec. 3, when the country crossed the 800,000 mark in daily infections.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said there will be no hard lockdown this time but has enforced renewed night curfew timings, with early closings for pubs and bars and curtailed hours for liquor sales.

He has also ordered the closing of popular beaches during the festive season.

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Chris Reese and TOm Brown

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