South Africa and the world are facing a medical emergency far graver than anything we have seen in over a century, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation as he declared the Covid-19 pandemic a national disaster and outlined extraordinary measures to fight it.
At the time of Mr Ramaphosa’s televised address to the nation, on Sunday, the country had 61 confirmed cases of people infected with the virus.
That number was expected to rise in the coming days and weeks, Mr Ramaphosa said.
Initially, it had been people who had travelled out of the country, especially from Italy, who had tested positive, he said.
“It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus.”
The World Health Organisation has declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic. More than 164 000 people have tested positive for what it is commonly referred to as the coronavirus in 146 countries with more than
6 400 deaths.
An “extraordinary response” was needed to limit the impact of the virus on South African society and the country’s economy, the president said. These measures include:
* Prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people.
* Banning foreign nationals from high-risk countries, such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, America, the UK, and China, from visiting South Africa. Those who entered the country from mid-February must present themselves for testing.
* Cancelling visas to visitors from those countries and revoking those already granted.
* Discouraging all non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus.
* Cancelling mass celebrations of upcoming national days such as Human Rights Day and other large government events.
* Closing 35 of the country’s 72 land ports and two of the eight sea ports.
* Prohibiting all non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of the country.
* Closing schools from Wednesday March 18 until after the Easter Weekend. To compensate, the mid-year school holidays will be shortened by a week.
* Suspending visits to all correctional centres for 30 days.
Mr Ramaphosa said countries that had heeded the call to implement radical measures had fared much better than those that had not.
Businesses, including mining, retail, banking, farming, should intensify hygiene control as should malls, entertainment venues and other places drawing large numbers of people.
People should wash their hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitisers for at least 20 seconds; cover their noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing with tissues or flexed elbow; and avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
A national command council, chaired by the president, would meet three times a week, to coordinate all aspects of the emergency response.
Covid-19 would have a significant and potentially lasting impact on the country’s economy, Mr Ramaphosa warned.
“Cabinet is therefore in the process of finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of Covid-19 on our economy. This package, will consist of various fiscal and other measures, and it will be concluded following consultation with business, labour and other relevant institutions. It is clear that this disease will be extremely disruptive.”
Mr Ramaphosa said fear and ignorance were perhaps the greatest dangers to the country at this time.
“We should stop spreading fake and unverified news and create further apprehension and alarm.
“While we are facing a medical emergency far graver than we have experienced in recent times, we are not helpless.
“We have the knowledge, we have the expertise among us, we have the means and the resources to fight this disease.”
“The country needed to be united in its response to the threat, and everyone should play their part, the president said.
“Although we may be limiting physical contact… this epidemic has the potential to bring us closer together. We are responding as a united nation to a common threat.
“This national emergency demands that we cooperate that we collaborate and that we take common action.”
The Covid-19 crisis has caused the cancellation or postponement of several events:
The Over-50s Cricket World Cupn, The Big Walk, and The Two Oceans, have been cancelled, and the rest of the Super 15 Rugby Tournament matches have been put on hold.
The annual Cape Town Carnival parade has been called off, and the Cape Town Jazz Festival has been postponed.