The number of Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in South Africa has risen to 709, the country’s health minister said on Wednesday.

The ministry also warned that the worst was still to come amid the outbreak of the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“We are expecting that there’s still going to be quite an increase in the number of cases.

“We also expect that a lot of work has to be done by South Africans to contain this infection,” Zweli Mkhize said.

“We’re still [in the] very early days,” he added.

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The numbers in South Africa have risen rapidly since it announced its first confirmed case on March 5. The country has now become Africa’s worst-affected nation, but it has not reported any deaths.

South Africa is set to introduce a nationwide, three-week lockdown beginning at midnight on Thursday (2200 GMT Thursday).

Only essential services will remain operational such as supermarkets and medical services.

“When we talk about the lockdown, it’s not about the movement of, you know, cars and workers and so on. It’s the mixing of people that we want to limit,’’ Mkhize said.

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He also noted the need to avoid the “large movement of people” that South Africa traditionally sees during the upcoming Easter holiday.

“We want people to stay put where they are,” he said.

Africa had been largely spared from the coronavirus pandemic for weeks but has now recorded more than 1,000 cases and more than 20 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation and individual country reports.

There are concerns that weak national health systems in Africa will be quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic.