National Disaster declaration follows confirmation of internal transmission of covid-19

South Africa has shut its borders to travellers from high-risk countries and will close all schools from Wednesday as part of the package of measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday night to limit the spread of the Covid-19 disease, which is caused by the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

Gatherings of 100 people or more have been banned with immediate effect, while organisers of smaller events that cannot be postponed or cancelled have been encouraged to take increased precautions if they do go ahead.

Announcing that the number of people infected with the virus in South Africa had now risen to 61, Ramaphosa said it was “concerning” that internal transmission of the virus had now started.

Ramaphosa said that previously all of those people infected had returned from travelling to high-risk countries, including Italy, but that the virus was now spreading among the broader population.

Social distancing and the restriction of movement were now necessary, as was tracking and screening of all those people who had come into contact with the initial carriers of the virus.

Ramaphosa made the announcements after a lengthy Cabinet meeting and several hours of consultations with stakeholders, which delayed his scheduled briefing by more than three hours.

Ramaphosa said the country was facing a “grave emergency” but that swift, common action could limit the spread of the deadly virus.

He said the Cabinet had identified measures that had to be taken to offset the severe effects on the economy and on the productivity and viability of businesses, job retention and job creation.

“The package will consist of various fiscal and other measures and will be concluded in consultation with business, labour and others,” he said.

Schools will also be closed from Wednesday March 18 until after the Easter holidays, Ramaphosa said, with the mid-year break intended to be shortened by one week to make up for lost teaching time.

Discussions were still ongoing with universities and colleges, with a decision on their further operation imminent. 

Call for co-operation

Ramaphosa said that co-operation among all sectors of society was necessary if South African were to limit the effects of the outbreak in the longer term. “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,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the pandemic required “extraordinary responses”, which included declaring a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act. This allows the government to set up and co-ordinate disaster systems around the country, including setting up quarantine centres and taking steps to limit the movement of people.

The government, he said, would be putting together a series of measures to try to limit the effects of the outbreak on the economy. A “national command council” headed by the president will take the lead in the government’s response to the outbreak and will meet three times a week.

There will also be increased capacity at designated hospitals. There will also be further strengthening of existing contact-tracing processes, and the setting up of a national tracking and tracing system for all those infected and those people who’ve had contact with them.

Travel has been banned outright from high-risk countries, including Italy, China, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. This takes effect from March 18, and visas from these countries have been revoked.
South African citizens have been advised not to travel to any of these countries, and to refrain from travelling abroad if possible.

Ramaphosa said all foreign nationals who had travelled to or through these countries in the past 20 days would be denied entry to South Africa. South Africans who had done so would be tested and be subjected to self-isolation or quarantined. Those people who had visited medium-risk countries, including Hong Kong, Portugal and Singapore, would also undergo high-intensity screening.

A total of 35 land ports of entry and six of the eight sea ports would be closed from Monday, while all non-essential government travel outside the country was banned immediately.

All visits to prisons have been banned for 30 days.

The president said that further details would be provided by the relevant ministers at a briefing on Monday morning.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

Related stories

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Fort Hare students test positive for Covid after partying

The 30 students, who went to a bash at a tavern in East London, were not wearing masks, did not sanitise their hands nor keep to social distancing regulations.

Totally gone mad: Covid-19 and the Trump presidency

Tracing America’s bungling of the containment of the coronavirus, Totally Under Control unveils the deep rot in Trump’s presidency

The challenges of delivering a Covid-19 vaccine in Africa requires a new approach

It is imperative that we train healthcare workers and participate in continent-wide collaboration

The quiet front line battle of South Africa’s rural nurses

The focus may have been on urban nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic, but those in rural areas suffer similar fates. However, very little is known about how they have been able to cope

We should not ignore Guinea’s constitutional coup

Citizens have for a year protested against the president seeking a third term in office despite a two-term limit. Many have been killed — and 90 more people died in this week’s crackdown

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday