So said Deputy President David Mabuza in an address to the National House of Traditional Leaders on Tuesday.
Mabuza said traditional leaders would play an important role in disseminating information to rural South Africans on the novel coronavirus and the measures taken by government.
He said citizens needed to know that Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu had announced that government had brought forward the date for old age pension and disability grants to 30 and 31 March, and other other grant categories from the 1 April.
“All channels for access, including ATM’s, retail points of sale devices, Post Offices and cash pay points will remain open for collections. We will rely on your cooperation and leadership to convey this message that the supply of food and other basic goods will continue, as will the banking services, power and water provision as well as telecommunications services,” Mabuza said.
The number of Covid-19 infections stood at 709 on Wednesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced earlier in an interview with SABC.
He said the Free State was of particular concern, as the number had increased by 50 cases, with Mangaung becoming the epicentre.
In an attempt to prevent the virus spreading further, a national lockdown will be imposed from Thursday at midnight. It will remain in place until 16 April.
Government was now identifying sites for quarantine and self-isolation for those who cannot do so at home. These sites would be located across the country including villages, Mabuza said.
He said the lockdown would be accompanied by a public health management programme which would significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management.
Community health teams would focus on expanding screening and testing where people live, focusing first on high-density and high-risk areas.
“The role of traditional leaders, as leaders closest to the people, is very important in assisting us to reverse the increase in new infections.
“It is clear that, with the numbers of confirmed infections in South Africa on the rise, our screening and testing procedures should be stepped up. While, so far, most cases of infections have been mainly confined to urban areas, it is only a matter of time before coronavirus pandemic reaches, and if not prevented, possibly also overwhelm our rural areas,” he said.
Internal transmissions have also been on a rise, with Mkhize saying that his ministerial advisory team – which consists of scientists – was now working on refining its definition of who is tested, from those with a history of travel, to who have been in contact with them, and vulnerable areas.
The deputy president welcomed the decision by the Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to suspend initiations.
“Ultimately, the risk of exposing our young men to infection whilst practicing the age-old tradition, is far too high to ignore. Practising social distancing, is the most effective way to contain the spread of the virus.”