Countrywide lockdown from March 26 as Covid-19 infections surge

SANDF members arrive at Rand Light Infantry in Johannesburg on Monday afternoon, hours before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown. According to media reports, buses of troops were spotted along Jan Smuts Avenue in Craighall ahead of Ramaphosa’s plan to try and curb the spread of Covid-19.
SANDF members arrive at Rand Light Infantry in Johannesburg on Monday afternoon, hours before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown. According to media reports, buses of troops were spotted along Jan Smuts Avenue in Craighall ahead of Ramaphosa’s plan to try and curb the spread of Covid-19.
Image: Dino Lloyd / Gallo Images

South Africa will be on lockdown for 21 days from midnight on Thursday.

People will have to stay at home.

This is compulsory — and necessary to contain the coronavirus pandemic that is spreading rapidly in the country, with 402 cases confirmed by yesterday, up 128 from the day before.

The army will be deployed to assist the police in making sure the measures are implemented and adhered to, President  Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation — his second in as many weeks — last night.

Shelters will be found to accommodate the homeless as well as sites for quarantine and self-isolation for people who cannot self-isolate at home.

“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,”  Ramaphosa said.

“This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, with a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition.

“We have learnt a great deal from the experiences of other countries.

“Those countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the disease.

“As a consequence, the national Coronavirus Command Council has decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown for 21 days with effect from midnight on Thursday 26 March,” the president said.

“This is a decisive measure to save millions of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Rampahosa said though the latest measures would have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on SA society and on the economy, the human cost of delaying such action would be far, far greater.

A raft of measures will be implemented to contain the contagion.

Only 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 will be exempted from the lockdown.

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 will also be allowed to do their work.

But, Ramaphosa said individuals would not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant.

Shops and businesses will be closed, except for supermarkets, pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE, 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.

Provision will be made for essential transport services to continue, including transport for essential staff and for patients who need to be managed elsewhere.

Ramaphosa also warned against panic-buying, saying supplies were available and would continue.

He called out businesses that were selling certain goods at excessively high prices, saying “this cannot be allowed”.

“Regulations have been put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes, to ensure shops maintain adequate stocks of basic goods and to prevent people from ‘panic buying’.”

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement, saying the measures were of critical importance in the efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

“Locking down our country and deploying the SANDF is something no South African would ever want to see in peacetime, but given the severity of our challenge it is absolutely the right thing to do,” he said.

“The threat of this virus is akin to a wartime situation, and this requires of each of us to make sacrifices in our daily lives, and to some of the liberties of our democratic society.”

Steenhuisen said the threat would test SA’s healthcare system as well as the country’s ability to withstand an economic onslaught like nothing before.

“But above all, it will test the resolve of our people, and this is where we can take great strength.

“We have been through tough times before, and we have overcome our obstacles. We can do it again, as long as we are in the fight together.”

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said this was time for South Africans to reach across the inequity which divides them.

“We are because of others; we cannot do it on our own,” the foundation said in a statement.

“While isolating ourselves from each other seems at odds with the inter-dependent character and needs of humanity, we must find new safe ways to connect to and support each other through this unprecedented crisis.

“We must, in particular, do everything we can to prevent the exposure of vulnerable groups to the virus,” it said.

Globally, the  number of coronavirus infections surpassed  350,000 on Monday,  with more than 15,000 deaths recorded.

Of the 402 confirmed cases in SA, 207 are in Gauteng and 100 in the Western Cape.

This is according to health minister Zweli Mkhize, who said earlier  on Monday that the virus had now spread to all nine provinces.

KwaZulu-Natal — where the first cases were reported — had 60 cases and the Eastern Cape had two.

According to the age profiles of the confirmed cases in SA, most of those infected are people aged 31-40, with 69 confirmed cases, followed by those aged 51-60, with 63 cases.

The least affected are those older than 81, with just a single case confirmed so far.

Medical experts say people over 60, and especially those over 80, are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection.

Additional reporting by Michael Kimberley