Coronavirus outbreak declared a national disaster

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a raft of unprece­dent­ed inter­ven­tions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa, includ­ing clos­ing schools from Wednes­day, clos­ing 35 ports of entry and impos­ing a trav­el ban on for­eign nation­als from coun­tries hard­est hit by the Coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic.

The mea­sures were the out­come of an emer­gency Cab­i­net meet­ing held on Sun­day in Pre­to­ria.

In a live broad­cast on tele­vi­sion, radio and online plat­forms, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said the inter­ven­tions were aimed at pro­tect­ing South African cit­i­zens and the econ­o­my and reduc­ing the impact of what he said was a med­ical emer­gency far graver than what has been expe­ri­enced in over a cen­tu­ry.

The num­ber of pos­i­tive cas­es of COVID-19 in the coun­try has risen to 61, an increase of 10 from the fig­ure released ear­li­er in the day by the Depart­ment of Health. Glob­al­ly, 162 000 peo­ple have test­ed pos­i­tive for Coro­n­avirus and around 5 000 peo­ple have died.

“This num­ber is expect­ed to rise in the com­ing days and weeks. Ini­tial­ly it was peo­ple who had trav­elled into the coun­try, espe­cial­ly from Italy. It is con­cern­ing that we are now deal­ing with inter­nal trans­mis­sion of the virus,” he said.

The sit­u­a­tion, the Pres­i­dent said, called for an extra­or­di­nary response and no half mea­sures.

Dur­ing the Cab­i­net meet­ing, the virus was declared a nation­al dis­as­ter to enable gov­ern­ment to have an inte­grat­ed and coor­di­nat­ed dis­as­ter mech­a­nism that will focus on pre­vent­ing and reduc­ing the out­break.

Dur­ing this peri­od, there should be lim­it­ed con­tact between peo­ple who may be infect­ed and South Africans.

Lim­it­ing trav­el

The trav­el ban will be imposed from 18 March on for­eign cit­i­zens who come from Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Ger­many, Unit­ed States, Ger­many, Unit­ed King­dom and Chi­na. “We have can­celled visas to vis­i­tors from those coun­tries from today. Pre­vi­ous­ly grant­ed visas have been revoked,” he said.

South Africans have been advised to refrain from all forms of trav­el to or through the Euro­pean Union, the US, UK and oth­er high risk areas.

“This is effec­tive imme­di­ate­ly,” he said.

Addi­tion­al­ly, any for­eign nation­al who has vis­it­ed any of the high risk coun­tries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa. South African cit­i­zens return­ing from these coun­tries will be sub­ject­ed to test­ing and self-iso­la­tion or quar­an­tine on return.

“Trav­ellers from medi­um risk coun­tries such as Por­tu­gal, Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore will be required to under­go high inten­si­ty screen­ing. All trav­ellers who have entered South Africa from high risk coun­tries since mid-Feb­ru­ary will be required to hand them­selves over for test­ing.

“We will strength­en screen­ing and test­ing mea­sures at the OR Tam­bo, Cape Town and King Sha­ka Inter­na­tion­al Air­ports.”

Of the country’s 53 land ports of entry, the Pres­i­dent announced that 35 will be shut down as of Mon­day. Two of the eight sea ports will be shut down too, for pas­sen­gers and crew chang­ing.

Effec­tive imme­di­ate­ly, all non-essen­tial trav­el for all spheres of gov­ern­ment out­side of the coun­try is pro­hib­it­ed.

Gov­ern­ment has also dis­cour­aged all non-essen­tial domes­tic trav­el, par­tic­u­lar­ly by air, rail, taxis and bus.

Lim­it­ed con­tact

“… It is essen­tial there­fore that we min­imise the risk of the spread of this virus by lim­it­ing con­tact amongst groups of peo­ple,” he said.

“While we appre­ci­ate the eco­nom­ic, reli­gious, and cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of social and com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings, the coro­n­avirus is spread through con­tact between per­sons.”

The Pres­i­dent called for social dis­tanc­ing said there­fore gath­er­ings of more than 100 peo­ple will be pro­hib­it­ed.

“Mass cel­e­bra­tions of upcom­ing nation­al days such as Human Rights Day and oth­er large gov­ern­ment events will be can­celled. Where small gath­er­ings are unavoid­able, organ­is­ers will need to put in place strin­gent mea­sures of pre­ven­tion and con­trol.

“Schools will be closed from Wednes­day, 18 March, and will remain closed until after the East­er Week­end,” the Pres­i­dent said. To com­pen­sate for this, mid-year school hol­i­days will be short­ened by a week.

Gov­ern­ment is work­ing close­ly with col­leges, uni­ver­si­ties and oth­er pub­lic facil­i­ties such as Par­lia­ment, pris­ons, police sta­tions and mil­i­tary instal­la­tions to inten­si­fy hygiene con­trol.

Address­ing reporters, the Pres­i­dent also announced that vis­its to cor­rec­tion­al cen­tres have been sus­pend­ed for 30 days from Sun­day.

Mea­sures and respons­es around insti­tutes of high­er learn­ing are expect­ed to be announced by the rel­e­vant min­is­ter in due course and fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tions.

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa also urged busi­ness­es to ensure nec­es­sary mea­sures to inten­si­fy hygiene con­trol.

“We also call on the man­age­ment of malls, enter­tain­ment cen­tres and oth­er places fre­quent­ed by large num­bers of peo­ple to bol­ster their hygiene con­trol,” he said.

Quar­an­tine sites

To fur­ther boost the country’s health response, the Pres­i­dent said, gov­ern­ment is strength­en­ing its sur­veil­lance and test­ing sys­tems and is in the process of iden­ti­fy­ing iso­la­tion and quar­an­tine sites in each dis­trict and metro.

“We are call­ing for a change of behav­iour amongst all South Africans. We must min­imise phys­i­cal con­tact with oth­er peo­ple and encour­age the elbow greet­ing rather than shak­ing hands,” the Pres­i­dent said.

Because of the sever­i­ty of this virus and its rapid spread­ing, gov­ern­ment will make fund­ing avail­able to capac­i­tate the sec­tors deal­ing with the nation­al response to the Coro­n­avirus out­break.

Nation­al Com­mand Coun­cil

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa announced that he will be chair­ing a Nation­al Com­mand Coun­cil that will include, among oth­ers, mem­bers of the Inter-Min­is­te­r­i­al Com­mit­tee.

They will meet three times a week, to coor­di­nate all aspects of an extra­or­di­nary emer­gency response.

The Pres­i­dent said the pan­dem­ic is antic­i­pat­ed to have dire effects on the country’s already wan­ing econ­o­my. A dra­mat­ic decline in eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty in major trad­ing part­ners, a sud­den drop in inter­na­tion­al tourism and severe insta­bil­i­ty across all glob­al mar­kets have already been record­ed.

“This will have a poten­tial­ly severe impact on pro­duc­tion, the via­bil­i­ty of busi­ness­es, job reten­tion and job cre­ation,” he said.

To soft­en the blow, Cab­i­net is in the process of final­is­ing a com­pre­hen­sive pack­age of inter­ven­tions to mit­i­gate the expect­ed impact of COVID-19 on the econ­o­my.

It is expect­ed to con­sist of var­i­ous fis­cal and oth­er mea­sures that will be con­clud­ed fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tions.

Keep­ing South Africans safe

The Pres­i­dent said government’s pri­or­i­ty was to safe­guard the health and well-being of South Africans, min­imise infec­tions and to ensure all those infect­ed get prop­er treat­ment.

“While we are bat­tling a con­ta­gious virus, per­haps the great­est dan­gers to our coun­try at this time are fear and igno­rance,” he said.

Despite the extent of the threat that this dis­ease presents, the coun­try should not be over­whelmed by fear and pan­ic.

“This epi­dem­ic will pass. But it is up to us to deter­mine how long it will last, how dam­ag­ing it will be, and how long it will take our econ­o­my and our coun­try to recov­er.

“It is true that we are fac­ing a grave emer­gency. But if we act togeth­er, if we act now, and if we act deci­sive­ly, we will over­come it,” said Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa. –

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President Cyril Ramaphosa GCIS.

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