South Africa plays down 1.5 million grave fears

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Pumza Fihlani BBC News, Johannesburg

The man in charge of health in South Africa’s economic hub of Gauteng, Bandile Masuku, caused consternation when he declared on national television that 1.5 million graves were being prepared for victims of Covid-19.

Gauteng’s health department was quick to explain that this was the total capacity of the province’s cemeteries – and that the actual number of graves being dug was far smaller.

However, its spokesperson, Kwara Kekana, told the BBC that while death was uncomfortable to talk about for parts of the population – for cultural reasons – it was sadly a subject that had to be discussed.

He said that identifying municipal land ahead of time that could be used, should it be needed, was a public responsibility alongside continuing to save lives.

Gauteng, which includes the city of Johannesburg, has now become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in South Africa.

The disease is expected to spread quicker in the province than it has in other parts of the country because it is more heavily populated.

Other big municipalities in South Africa are already struggling, with reports of oxygen shortages, a lack of beds and personal protective equipment (PPE).