President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a drastic new measure to combat the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in South Africa – a three week lockdown with severe restrictions on travel and movement, supported by the South African National Defence Force.
Speaking in a briefing on Monday evening, Ramaphosa thanked the nation and people from all sectors for heeding the call to tackle the growing crisis. However, he said that more needed to be done to avoid “an enormous catastrophe” among the population.
Staying home and avoiding all social engagements and contact with other people has proven to be the most effective way to avoid spreading the virus – but we must now do everything within our means to curb infections.
Ramaphosa said that the next few days are crucial. Without decisive action the number of cases will increase. This extremely dangerous for a population like South Africa, he said.
Those countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the disease. “Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands,” the president said.
The president announced that new measures would now be put in place to urgently and dramatically escalate the response. The main measure is a three week lockdown (21 days) taking effect from midnight on Thursday, 26 March to Thursday 16 April.
- All South Africans will have to stay at home.
- Exempted: health workers in public and private health sectors; emergency personnel; security services such as police and soldiers; those involved in the production and supply of food and basic goods; those working in essential services.
- People will only be able to leave their homes to buy food, visit the pharmacy, or seek medical care; or to collect a social grant.
- Shelters for homeless people will be identified, as well as quarantine areas for those who cannot self-isolate at home.
- All businesses will close – only medical facilities pharmacies, laboratories, petrol stations and food stores will remain open;
- Essential transport services will also continue.
Specific plans on exemptions and services that will remain open are to be be published in due course, the president said.
The categories of people who will be exempted from this lockdown are the following: health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services – such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers – and other persons necessary for our response to the pandemic.
It will also include those involved in the production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, the maintenance of power, water, and telecommunications services, laboratory services, and the provision of medical and hygiene products.
All shops and businesses will be closed, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.
Companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open, the [resident said.
“The lockdown is necessary to fundamentally shift the progression of the virus,” Ramaphosa said. The SANDF has been deployed to support government in the plan, as screening and testing is ramped up to identify high-risk areas.
The announced measures come after a memorandum on the SANDF deployment and a presentation from advisors to the president were leaked to the media.
Similar measures have been taken in other countries affected by the virus, including European countries where the spread has been exponential, putting severe strain on medical facilities and supplies.
Ramaphosa said the government will put measures in place to assist local businesses which will be negatively affected by the restrictions implemented during the lockdown.
Money will be spent to save lives and to help businesses survive, and Ramaphosa noted that the Rupert and Oppenheimer families have donated R1 billion each to the cause.
“We call on large business in particular to take care of their employees,” added Ramaphosa.
R200 million will also be made available to small and medium businesses in the tourism sector who have been hit hard by travel restrictions, said the president.
Coronavirus in South Africa
South Africa now has 402 confirmed cases of Covid-19 – an increase of 128 from Sunday’s announcement. There have been no deaths, however, Ramaphosa said the number of infections will continue to rise.
As of Monday (23 March), 360,000 cases have been confirmed around the world, with over 15,400 deaths. 100,600 people have recovered from the virus, but 244,000 remain infected – 11,600 of which are in serious or critical condition.
Italy has overtaken China in terms of deaths as a result of the virus, with alarming numbers reported each day. The USA, meanwhile, is recording the most number of new cases, with the latest jump of 7,000 new cases reported.