The novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of 36 South African police officers and infected over 5,000 others, Police Minister Bheki Cele has said.
The virus has also resulted in the temporary closure and decontamination of hundreds of police stations across the country, Cele said in a virtual address to the South African Police Service (SAPS) members.
Policing during the pandemic came at a cost, the minister said on Friday.
He paid tribute to SAPS members for their resilience during the pandemic and their role in helping enforce the lockdown.
The police have manned more than 14,000 roadblocks, maintained high visibility and patrols on beaches, at taxi ranks, markets, malls, main streets and other areas of potential mass gatherings, to ensure social distancing since the lockdown on March 27, said Cele.
Police officers are facing two enemies, the pandemic and criminals, he said.
“COVID-19 is a second enemy of police officers, an invisible one. While the country is in lockdown, criminals are not going to ‘stay at home’,” said Cele.
He called on all SAPS officers to “decisively deal with both the armed and unarmed enemy.”
Speaking of the upsurge in gender-based violence during the lockdown, Cele said fighting gender-based violence must always remain a priority throughout COVID-19 and beyond.
“I want to thank officers for rendering effective services at police stations, especially to victims of domestic and gender-based violence,” Cele said.
He encouraged officers to continue improving responses to crimes committed against women, children and all vulnerable groups.
“Handle victims who come to you with empathy. Investigate cases thoroughly, leave no stone unturned in bringing perpetrators to book,” Cele said.
He was speaking as the pandemic was reportedly reaching its peak, making it more difficult for police officers to perform their duties with the recruitment of police trainees being ground to a halt.
As of Thursday, the country’s cumulative number of confirmed cases reached 238,339, of which 13,674 new cases were reported since Wednesday, the highest single-day surge since the outbreak in early March. The death toll stood at 3,720, up by 129 in the past 24 hours, according to official figures.