South African authorities ordered a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus as infections continue to surge and threaten to spiral out of control.
Grocers, pharmacies, banks and filling stations will be allowed to remain open, while the JSE and other essential services can continue operating, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday night in a televised address to the nation. The army will help the police enforce the lockdown.
“Immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions,” Ramaphosa said. “While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far greater.”
South Africa has confirmed 402 Covid-19 infections — the most in sub-Saharan Africa — since the first one was detected on 5 March. Health minister Zweli Mkhize has warned as much as 70% of the population could contract the illness over time. While Ramaphosa declared a national disaster a week ago and instituted travel bans, shut schools and banned large gatherings, those measures have failed to slow the pandemic’s spread.
There were 128 new infections on Monday, with cases confirmed in all nine provinces. Gauteng, the economic hub, which has 207 cases, and the Western Cape, which has 100, have been hardest hit. There have been no fatalities so far.
The health system was already strained before the pandemic hit, and the government fears it will buckle under the weight of a flood of new infections. The virus has already dealt a body blow to the struggling economy and the new restrictions will exacerbate the fallout, but the government has said it has to prioritise the safety of the country’s citizens.
“The next few days are crucial,” Ramaphosa said. “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. This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours which has a large number of people with suppressed immunity.” — By Mike Cohen and Amogelang Mbatha, (c) 2020 Bloomberg LP
- This is a developing story