The stigmatisation of people who have contracted Covid-19 is a challenge that society has a collective responsibility to stamp out, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter on Monday.
"There have been disturbing reports of individuals being ostracised from their communities and of communities protesting against coronavirus patients being admitted to local hospitals and clinics. This must stop," Ramaphosa said.
"Just as we came together to promote acceptance of people living with HIV and stood firm against victimisation, we must show understanding, tolerance, kindness, empathy and compassion for those who are infected with this virus and for their families."
According to the most recent statistics released by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday night, 138 134 people across the country have been infected.
The Western Cape accounted for 60 445 infections, or 43.8%, followed by Gauteng with 36 895, or 26.7%, and the Eastern Cape with 25 099, or 18.2%.
"It is said that this stigmatisation is driven by fear of contracting the disease and lack of understanding. The best way to overcome our instinctive fear of illness and contagion is to observe the hygiene protocols that are in place," Ramaphosa said.
"The fear of infection is well-founded and real. At the same time, we know what we have to do to protect ourselves and others. We know what causes the virus and what we can do to protect ourselves from becoming infected. We know we have to maintain social distancing, to self-isolate if we have come into contact with those infected and to present to a hospital if we have symptoms.
"We must continue to be guided by facts and not rumours. The time when anyone could say they do not know anyone who is infected or affected by coronavirus has long passed. Now, more than ever, our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours need our empathy and support."
On Sunday, Mkhize reported 43 new coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 2 456.
He explained that while rising in absolute numbers, the country's mortality rate remains stable between 1.8% and 2.1%.
Ramaphosa said people will at times find themselves despondent and fearful as the infection numbers and fatalities continue to rise.
"It may be that things have gotten worse, but we are certain that they will get better. Our scientists and medical advisers told us that the rate of infections will go up as we move towards our peak. But it will certainly come down."