Schools shut, travel bans enforced as SA declares coronavirus disaster

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation following a special cabinet meeting on the COVID-19 epidemic at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
TIME TO ACT: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation following a special cabinet meeting on the COVID-19 epidemic at the Union Buildings in Pretoria

Schools across SA will be closed and a travel ban put in place from Wednesday as SA takes “urgent and drastic measures” to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night.

On top of this, all gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited.

The president announced a national state of disaster and said the killer virus which was sweeping the globe had now infected at least 61 people in SA.

In Port Elizabeth, St Dominic’s Priory School is on high alert after a parent of two pupils at the school came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Principal Grant James said he was informed on Sunday morning by one parent that their spouse had been in direct contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

The  board decided that the school would be  closed effective immediately, James said, adding the affected parent would be tested on Monday to see if they had been infected.

Ramaphosa said the number of positive COVID-19 cases was “expected to rise in the coming days and weeks”.

“Initially it was people who have travelled outside the country, especially Italy [who tested positive].

“It is concerning now that we are dealing with internal transmission of the virus,” he said, without providing further details.

“Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation,”  Ramaphosa said.

He said despite the religious, social and economic implications of the decisions, they were necessary because of the severity of the virus and its rapid spread.

There was no time for half-measures, he said.

Ramaphosa said to enforce “social distancing”, gatherings of more than 100 people would be prohibited and that mass celebrations of national days — including Human Rights Day on Saturday — and other government events were cancelled.

This means Limpopo will not be able to host its huge annual Easter gathering of members of the Zion Christian Church in Moria, which draws an estimated three million people.

All  large sports gatherings, concerts and conferences will also be cancelled.

Many organisations have already cancelled mass gatherings, including the Cape Town International jazz Festival and Africa’s biggest running event, the Two Oceans Marathon, over concerns about the virus.

Several universities, including Rhodes and UCT, have also postponed graduation ceremonies and conferences.

Ramaphosa said all schools would  remain closed from Wednesday until after the Easter weekend.

He announced strict travel bans on foreign nationals from high-risk countries, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, UK and China — all effective from Wednesday.

“We have cancelled visas ... and previously granted visas are revoked,” he said.

He encouraged South Africans to refrain from travel to high-risk countries, and said non-essential domestic travel — particularly via plane, train and taxi — was discouraged.

“We have now declared a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act.

“This will enable us to have an integrated and co-ordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus.

“We will also be able to set up emergency rapid and effective response systems to mitigate the severity of its effect,” he said.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said there were still no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province.

He did not respond to questions if a St Dominic’s parent had been tested at Livingstone Hospital.

Earlier on Sunday, Theodor Herzl in Port Elizabeth also announced that all three of its  schools in Walmer — pre-primary, primary and high school — would be shut immediately.

Here is the full list of measures announced by the president:

• A national state of disaster is declared in terms of the Disaster Management Act;

• A  travel ban on high-risk countries is in place from  Wednesday;

• SA citizens may not travel to high-risk countries;

• Gatherings of more than a 100 people are prohibited;

• Large events and celebrations are cancelled;

• Schools are closed from Wednesday  until the Easter weekend;

• The state is working closely with unions, colleges and so on to increase hygiene and put other appropriate responses in place; 

• Businesses are called upon to take measures to intensify hygiene control;

• Surveillance and testing systems are being strengthened at hospitals;

• Government is partnering with the private sector to develop a tracing, tracking and monitoring system for all those affected by the coronavirus;

• Citizens are asked to take various personal measures in  terms of handwashing,  elbow greetings and so forth;

• A package will be put together in response to the economic effect of the disease; and

• A National Command Council, chaired by president, has been established and will meet three  times a week to co-ordinate responses to the pandemic.


President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on March 15 2020. This comes after the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus reached 61. Subscribe to MultimediaLIVE here: Comment Moderation Policy:


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.