South Africans are bracing for a 21-day lockdown after the government announced sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said late on Monday in a televised address to the nation.”From midnight on Thursday, March 26 until midnight on Thursday, April 16, all South Africans will have to stay at home, This is a measure to save the lives of South Africans from infections and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people,” he added.
On Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases leapt again to 554 – just over a week ago, the figure was 62. The surge has raised alarms that a wider outbreak would put under serious stress the country’s already strained healthcare system in one of the world’s most unequal societies.
Ramaphosa emphasized that people will still be able to leave their homes to seek medical care, buy food or collect a social grants.
All shops and businesses are to close, with the exemption of pharmacies, laboratories, banks, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.
Health workers, emergency personnel and security service allowed to work, while soldiers will be deployed to patrol the streets in support of the police to impose the lockdown, the government hopes to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in crowded townships and informal settlements where access to clean water for hand-washing can be scarce and self-quarantine practices are hard to apply.
“While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater,” the South African president said.
South Africa, a country already grappling with an almost 30 percent unemployment rate and low economic growth, the lockdown could be disastrous for the economy.
However the government promised that it will create a temporary compensation fund so that businesses can avoid having to dismiss staff, as well as provide tax relief for small businesses.
Ramaphosa said a first phase of the government’s economic response would include assisting businesses in distress and a package of more than 3 billion rand ($170m) of funding for industrial firms.