The government will intensify its testing and tracing efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19 as the number of infections continues to rise, with confirmed cases sitting at 1 326 and the number of deaths has risen to three.
Speaking to the nation on the fourth day of the nationwide lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country would be entering a “new phase” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic where the state will roll out a large-scale screening, testing and tracing, and medical management programme around the country.
The programme will see around 10 000 fieldworkers visit homes in cities, towns and villages to screen residents for Covid-19 symptoms.
“This drive is far-reaching, it is intensive and it is unprecedented in scale,” said Ramaphosa.
People who are found to show symptoms of the virus will be sent to local and mobile clinics for testing, and those who are found to be positive will be instructed to self-quarantine at home or an identified location, or be transferred to a hospital facility depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Ramaphosa said mobile technology will be used to implement an “extensive tracing system” to find the contacts of the confirmed Covid-19 cases so that the geographical location of new cases can be monitored in real-time.
With 17 out of 21 days left to the lockdown, Ramaphosa said the virus, which exactly a week ago had been confined to urban areas, has now been confirmed in two townships – Khayelitsha in the Western Cape and Alexandra in Gauteng – where crowded living conditions and a lack of water and sanitation are a key concern in containing the spread of infection.
On the economic front, South Africa was finally knocked down to below investment grade by rating agency Moody’s – a move that will see the country fall into a deep recession.
Ramaphosa said that while the downgrade will increase the government’s cost of borrowing and negatively impact the economy this would not “diminish in any way our response to the coronavirus pandemic”.
“We are pushing ahead to implement the necessary health interventions and economic and social measures to contain the spread of the disease and alleviate its effects on our people,” Ramaphosa assured the country.
In a nod to the billionaires, Ramaphosa also revealed that technology company Naspers had donated R1.5 billion towards the fight against the virus, while thanking the Motsepe Foundation for donating R1 billion over the weekend. This comes after the Rupert and Oppenheimer families previously donated R1 billion each.
The founder of Alibaba has also donated medical supplies to countries across the continent, including South Africa.
In its reasoning, Moody’s cited the country’s weakening fiscal position, rigid labour environment, weak growth and an inability to implement reforms to stabilise electricity supply as being responsible for the downgrade
These factors would only be inflamed by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 740 000 people, killed over 35 000 others, and crippled health systems all over the world.
Ramaphosa said despite these challenges government is “committed to implementing structural economic reforms to address weak economic growth, constrained public finances and struggling state-owned enterprises”.
Stay at home
He urged South Africans who are not essential service providers to remain in their homes and abide by the regulations over the next 17 days, leaving only to get food and essential provisions, collect a social grant, buy medicine or get medical care.
He warned that the virus “poses a great danger to every one of us and to our society” irrespective of class or creed.
“Let us not make the mistake of thinking this is somebody else’s problem.”