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. The number has since increased to 85.
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. By Tuesday, close to 170 000 people had tested positive for what it is commonly referred to as the coronavirus in 146 countries with more than 6 600 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
co-ordinate 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.”
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato announced on Monday that all portfolio, sub-council, and ward committee meetings would be cancelled until further notice.
“We will continue to assess the situation and update this instruction as needed. We will be engaging with the speaker, Dirk Smit, and all political parties about how to deal with important matters such as the City’s budget, which is set to be tabled at the council meeting later this month.”
Mr Plato said the City would need to “adjust” its approach to public participation processes in the immediate future, as it would not be possible to hold public meetings.
Residents should email or hand in written submissions on matters requiring public participation, he said. And the
public should, in general, rely on email, the phone or the City’s website for council matters instead of trying to do things in person.
Mr Plato said there would also be an immediate travel ban – both local and international – for all City staff and councillors.
The mayor said he had appointed a coronavirus task team that would meet daily to assess the situation and advise of any additional measures that needed to be taken.