President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that the country will be placed under a temporary lockdown for 21 days in an effort to control the spread of Covid-19, only allowing for essential personnel and those needing medical care to leave their homes for a limited period.
“The action we are taking now will have lasting economic costs. But we are convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater,” said Ramaphosa, while addressing the nation on Monday evening.
The lockdown will come into effect from midnight on March 26 to midnight on April 16.
Essential personnel refers to doctors, nurses and police, while other citizens will only be allowed to leave their houses under strictly-controlled circumstances.
Ramaphosa said all shops and businesses will be closed, barring pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial services, supermarkets, petrol stations as well as healthcare providers.
A full list of companies that should remain open will be announced soon.
The lockdown plan makes provision for homeless people to be given alternative accommodation, either where they are or at identified sites.
Ramaphosa also announced measures that would mitigate the impact of the virus on the economy: from mild tax breaks, to a solidarity fund and increased support for small businesses, the informal sector and vulnerable workers.
He said the government has set up a Solidarity Fund that will pool funds from government, business and private individuals. Government has already provided R150 million in seed funding, while the private sector has pledged to make donations in the coming weeks.
“The fund will focus efforts to combat the spread of the virus, help us to track the spread, care for those who are ill and support those whose lives are disrupted,” said the Ramaphosa.
The president applauded the Rupert and Oppenheimer families for assisting small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic with R1 billion each. Additional measures to assist small and medium businesses include using the reserves in the Unemployment Insurance Fund system to support workers in the businesses whose companies cannot provide them with support.
Large companies have been urged to support their workers during the shutdown.
“Tax-compliant businesses with a turnover of less than R50 million will be allowed to delay 20% of their pay-as-you-earn liabilities over the next four months and a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payments without penalties or interest over the next six months,” Ramaphosa said.
This is expected to assist about over 75 000 small and medium enterprises, while four million workers in the private sector earning under R6 500 will receive a tax subsidy of R500 over the next four months.
Numbers keep rising
The number of confirmed cases rose sharply on Monday with no sign of slowing since the first case was reported on March 5.
Since Ramaphosa announced a national state of disaster on March 15, which was followed by a number of regulations restricting gatherings and movement, cases have risen from 61 to 402.
The president said this was concerning as it would “stretch our health services beyond what we can manage and many people will not be able to access the care they need.”
“We must, therefore, do everything within our means to reduce the overall number of infections and to delay the spread of infection over a longer period – what is known as flattening the curve of infections,” he said.
He said it’s essential that everyone adheres to the regulations in place to stop the numbers from moving from “a few hundred to tens of thousands and, within a few weeks, to hundreds of thousands.”
Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) have already been deployed to assist police in their law-enforcement efforts, with some being spotted around Johannesburg on Monday.
The plan also proposes house-to-house screening and testing, bringing volunteers in to assist.
It includes the relaxation of testing requirements, in order to identify as many cases of people infected with Covid-19 as possible. This will be done with a corresponding increase in laboratory services.
The ultimate objective is to ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed with unnecessary cases. Treatment will be given in order of severity, with serious cases receiving centralised treatment, while mild cases will receive decentralised care.
The plan is modelled on China’s lockdown strategy, which has been lauded for seemingly slowing the rate of new infections while these numbers rise in other areas across the world.
Cabinet ministers who are coordinating the country’s response to Covid-19 will be briefing the nation on Tuesday (March 24), where they will unpack details on the new regulations announced by the president.
Original livestream courtesy of the SABC