President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday night declared a “national state of disaster” in terms of the Disaster Management Act and announced sweeping interventions, including closing schools, to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ramaphosa, addressing the nation from the Union Buildings in Pretoria, announced that government will severely curtail air travel from countries badly affected by the virus — which causes the deadly Covid-19 disease — and warned the measures will impact the economy negatively and lead to job losses.
“We have decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country, and to reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy,” the president said.
Schools nationwide will be closed from Wednesday until after Easter, he said. Government is also imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from “high-risk countries”, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, Germany, the US and the UK, effective from 18 March. That is likely to have a devastating impact on the tourism sector.
“We have cancelled visas to visitors from those countries from today and previously granted visas are hereby revoked,” Ramaphosa said. “South African citizens are advised to refrain from all forms of travel to or through the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and other identified high-risk countries such as China, Iran and South Korea. This is effective immediately.”
Furthermore, any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the last 20 days will be denied a visa. South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa, the president said.
Border posts closed
“Travellers from medium-risk countries such as Portugal, Hong Hong and Singapore will be required to undergo high-intensity screening,” he said, without providing further details about the planned screening system. “All travellers who entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February will be required to present themselves for testing. We will strengthen surveillance, screening and testing measures at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka international airports.”
The country will close 35 land-based border points effective immediately. Two of the country’s eight seaports will be closed for passengers and crew changes. Effective immediately, all non-essential travel for government outside the country is prohibited.
Ramaphosa said government discourages – but hasn’t banned – all “non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and buses”. Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned. Visits to all jails and correctional facilities are suspended for the next 30 days with immediate effect.
Shopping malls and other public places will be directed to bolster their hygiene control. Isolation and quarantine sites are being set up in each district and metropolitan municipality. Capacity to deal with the crisis is being bolstered at the country’s hospitals.
“This coronavirus will have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on our economy,” the president said. “In the last few weeks, we have seen a dramatic decline in economic activity in our trading partners, a sudden drop in international tourism and severe instability across all global markets.
“The anticipated effects on the decline on exports and tourist arrivals will be exacerbated by both an increase in infections and the measures we have to take to contain the disease. This will have a potentially severe impact on production, the viability of of businesses, and job retention and job creation.”
Because of this, cabinet is finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate against the impact of the virus on the economy and will consist of fiscal and other measures. – © 2020 NewsCentral Media