A Reuters photographer saw several shops being looted in the town of Hammersdale, Kwazulu-Natal, on Wednesday. Local TV stations meanwhile showed more looting of shops in South Africa's largest township Soweto, and in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
Soldiers have been sent onto the streets to help outnumbered police contain the unrest and order was being restored in some places on Wednesday, such as the northern Johannesburg township of Alexandra, local TV reported.
The National Hospital Network (NHN), representing 241 public hospitals already under strain from Africa's worst COVID-19 epidemic, said it was running out of oxygen and drugs, most of which are imported through Durban, as well as food.
"The impact of the looting and destruction is having dire consequences on hospitals," the NHN said. "And the epicentre of the pandemic is within the affected provinces currently under siege." Staff in affected areas were unable to get to work, it said, worsening shortages caused by a third wave of infections.
As authorities in Durban seemed powerless to stop looting, vigilantes armed with guns, many of them from South Africa's white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further looting, Reuters TV footage showed. One man shouted "go home and protect your homes".
Other residents gathered outside supermarkets waiting for them to open so they could stock up on essentials.
The poverty and inequality fuelling the unrest has been compounded by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19. The United Nations in South Africa expressed concern that disruptions to transport for workers from the riots would exacerbate joblessness, poverty and inequality.