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President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation from the Union Buildings in Tshwane on the government’s response to contain and combat the rapid spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: GCISâ€‹
President Cyril Ramaphosa took aggressive action on Monday night to contain SA’s Covid-19 outbreak, announcing a 21-day national lockdown that will virtually bring the struggling economy to a halt.
The shutdown, starting at midnight on Thursday, comes after the number of reported cases rose more than sixfold in just one week and surged past 400.
Acknowledging the effect this will have on people’s livelihoods, the president also announced measures to support small businesses and protect employees.
"It is clear from the development of the disease in other countries and from our own modelling that immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country," said Ramaphosa, in a speech broadcast on national television.
"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," he said.
Ramaphosa’s announcement comes barely a week after he declared a national disaster on March 15 and implemented what were at the time Africa’s most stringent restrictions on travel and mass gatherings, including the closure of schools, a ban on travellers from hard-hit countries and a ban on alcohol sales after 6pm.
The measures have failed to stem the tide of new infections, with the number of reported cases rising from 61 to 402 over eight days.
The majority of these cases are in Gauteng (207) and Western Cape (100), but the disease has spread to all nine provinces.
The new steps follow a meeting Ramaphosa convened with business leaders on Sunday, which was immediately followed by a meeting of the National Command Council, which he established to co-ordinate SA’s response to Covid-19.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announces that SA will be locked down for 21 days, March 23 2020.
A planned address to the nation on Sunday was delayed as the government grappled with the trade-off between saving lives and further harming the economy, and whether to impose a staged or immediate lockdown.
Covid-19 has swept around the globe in the three months since it emerged in China, ravaging financial markets and disrupting global trade and travel. A growing number of countries imposed ever-more stringent measures to limit the movement of people to slow transmission of the highly contagious respiratory disease and to protect their health systems from being overwhelmed by critically ill patients.
Covid-19 is caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus. By Monday night, more than 353,000 people had been infected and more than 15,430 people had died in 167 countries and regions, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. Most cases are mild but it can be lethal. Up to 15% of patients must be admitted to hospital.
Ramaphosa said the army had been deployed to help the police enforce the lockdown, declared in terms of the National Disaster Act.
People will be confined to their homes from Friday morning, and will be allowed to leave only to shop for essentials such as food and medicines, to seek healthcare, or collect social grants. Essential workers, including people who work in health care, emergency services, the police, army, and in the production and distribution of vital supplies such as food and pharmaceuticals are exempted.
All shops and businesses are to be closed, except for supermarkets, pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, petrol stations and health-care providers. Companies essential for production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open. Provision will be made for transport services to continue for essential workers. "While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater," Ramaphosa said.
The lockdown will be accompanied by a big push to step up screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management, focusing first on high-density and high-risk areas.
Ramaphosa urged South Africans not to stockpile food, saying manufacturers and distributors had adequate supplies.
"It is important for all South Africans to understand that the supply of goods remains continuous and supply chains remain intact," he said.