In what will undoubtedly become a defining moment of his presidency, Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Monday evening and announced a 21-day national lockdown in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
As of Wednesday March 25, the number of infected in SA stood at 709, with the number likely to increase further as the days progress.
During the lockdown, which comes into play at midnight on Thursday, will involve the closing of all businesses deemed not essential.
The only businesses exempt from the lockdown will be pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE, supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.
In addition, individuals will be forbidden from leaving their homes for the duration of the lockdown except under strictly controlled circumstances. These circumstances include seeking medical care, purchasing food or medicine and collecting a social grant.
“The nation-wide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society.
“I have accordingly directed the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) be deployed to support the South African Police Service (SAPS) in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented,” said Ramaphosa.
The president acknowledged that the lockdown will make the current economic situation in SA even more precarious.
“Our country finds itself confronted not only by a virus that has infected more than a quarter of a million people across the globe, but also by the prospects of a very deep economic recession that will cause businesses to close and many people to lose their jobs,” he said.
According to Ramaphosa, a Soidarity Fund has been set up to help care for those infected or who have had their lives disrupted.
The fund will be chaired by Gloria Serobe with Adrian Enthoven as deputy chairperson and will be administered by a team drawn from government, accounting firms and financial institutions.
“To get things moving, government is providing seed capital of R150 million and the private sector has already pledged to support this fund with financial contributions in the coming period,” said Ramaphosa.
More information about the fund can be found on the Fund’s website.
Ramaphosa also said that the government was taking action to combat a spike in price gauging by individuals and businesses.
He also asked South Africans to avoid panic-buying or harding, especially of basic necessities.
“It is important for all South Africans to understand that the supply of goods remains continuous and supply chains remain intact,” Ramaphosa said.
To help keep track of infections and combat the spread of Covid-19, Ramaphosa said there would be a focus on expanding screening and testing, especially in high density and high risk areas.
“To ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed, a system will be put in place for ‘centralised patient management’ for severe cases and ‘decentralised primary care’ for mild cases,” he said.
Emergency water supplies will be delivered to rural areas along with storage tanks, new boreholes and communal standpipes.
Travel in and out of the country has also been heavily restricted.
SA citizens and residents arriving from high risk countries will be placed under immediate quarantine for 14 days while non-South Africans arriving on flights from high risk countries will be turned back.
International travellers who arrived in the country from high risk countries after March 9 will be confined to their hotels for 14 days and international flights to Lanseria Airport have been suspended.
While he urged SA residents to remain calm, Ramaphosa also admitted that such strict measures are necessary given the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the days, weeks and months ahead, our resolve, our resourcefulness and our unity as a nation will be tested as never before.
“I call on all of us, one and all, to play our part. To be courageous, to be patient and, above all, to show compassion.
“Let us never despair. For are a nation at one, and we will surely prevail,” Ramaphosa concluded.