A whole new world: SA under lockdown

Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

The “new dawn” president Cyril Ramaphosa promised SA would not have included citizens' movements being heavily restricted, food rationing and isolation, but this is the reality that has come to pass with a 21-day national lockdown that will come into effect at midnight on Thursday.

The country's confirmed coronavirus cases stand at 402, and in a sombre address to the nation on Monday night the president laid out in raw detail a series of unprecedented measures to curb the outbreak.

By far and away the most serious of these is the 21-day lockdown.

This lockdown applies to every South African barring key personnel such as health and emergency workers,  police, traffic officers,  soldiers and others.

During this period, shops will be closed. However, those involved in the production and distribution of food, as well as providers of essential banking services. Laboratory workers, medical staff and those producing hygiene products will also be exempt.

All shops and business except for banks, pharmacies, essential financial services, supermarkets and petrol stations will be closed.

“Individuals won't be allowed to leave their homes except to buy food and get grants,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said government was aware the lockdown was a “decisive measure” and would have a “considerable effect” on people's livelihoods, but failure to take steps now would result in great human cost.

Ramaphosa said the SA National Defence Force would be deployed to assist police to ensure the new measures were implemented.

“We expect all South Africans to act in the interests of the nation, and not in their own selfish interests.” 

Ramaphosa acknowledged that the country was facing a deep economic recession, but said the government was working with business to put in place a plan to mitigate the financial effects.  

During his address, Ramaphosa announced that the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had pledged R1bn each towards the fight against Covid-19 in SA.

The president further announced the setting up of a solidarity fund, wherein all businesses and private individuals were urged to make donations. The fund, said Ramaphosa, will account fully for every cent donated and publish statements on its website.

“The fund will complement what we are doing in the public sector. It will be chaired by Ms Gloria Serobe,” said Ramaphosa. “Anyone can begin to deposit funds into this account acting in solidarity with South Africans.”

In terms of medical services, Ramaphosa said a public health management programme would be rolled out to  increase contact screening and testing for the coronavirus, while  community health teams would service  high density and high risk areas.

“The cost of not acting now will be much greater if we don't.”

Ramaphosa said emergency water supplies, water tankers and boreholes would be established in rural areas.

People arriving from overseas would now be turned back, and those already in the country would be quarantined for 14 days.

“We need to dramatically escalate our response. The next few days are crucial. If we don't take action now the number of cases will increase to hundreds of thousands in the next few weeks,” Ramaphosa said.

“This (virus) is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, but we have learnt a great deal from the experiences of other countries.” 

He said in eight days, Covid-19 cases had grown sixfold from 61 to 402.

“This number will continue to rise. It is clear that immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required,” Ramaphosa said.  

German carmaker Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to cut back operations in SA in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The company says the East London vehicle assembly plant of Mercedes-Benz SA (MBSA) will gradually reduce manufacturing operations as well as work in some administrative departments.

Manufacturing is expected to stop completely on April 9 for an initial five weeks.

As with BMW and Ford Southern Africa, the company says the decision to suspend production is driven by a mix of health and business demands.

An MBSA spokesperson said: “The decision will help the company prepare for a period of temporary lower demand and protect the company’s financial strength.” East London builds a variety of C-Class car models, of which the overwhelming majority are exported.

The global crash in new car demand because of Covid-19 made a production suspension at MBSA inevitable after BMW and Ford, both of which are also export-dependent, made the same decision. Besides cars, East London also assembles trucks and buses. — Additional reporting by David Furlonger and Zingisa Mvumvu