Ramaphosa declares national disaster as Covid-19 cases rise to 61, and SA heads for lockdown

President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing his new Cabinet at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, 29 May 2019. Picture: Jacques Nelles

President Cyril Ramaphosa told an expectant nation what Cabinet had decided to do about the growing coronavirus crisis.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening in Pretoria about Cabinet’s plans for the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said there were now confirmations of local transmission of the virus and the number of confirmed infections was now at 61 cases.

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize on Sunday said the total was 51, meaning 10 new cases were confirmed during the rest of the day. There have been no related deaths as yet.

Ramaphosa declared a travel ban on countries considered to be high risk, as from 18 March.

UPDATE: More coronavirus cases being investigated as Mkhize labels disease ‘explosive’

“We have cancelled visas to visitors from those countries. We have plans to strengthen screening and testing measures at international airports.” Previously granted visas had also been revoked.

South Africans were also advised to avoid travel to the EU, US, China, Iran, South Korea and other identified regions.

The president said 35 ports of entry into and out of SA would be shut down out of 72. South African citizens returning from high-risk areas would need to self-quarantine. Those from medium-risk countries would be subjected to testing.

(The ports to be closed were later confirmed as follows:

Alexanderbay, Sendelingsdrfit, Onseepkans, McCarthysRest, Middelputs, Rietfontein, Gemsbok, Tweerivieren, Bray, Mokopong, Mokghibistadt, Swartkopfontein, Derdepoort, Stockpoort, Platjan, Pondrift, Zanzibar, Pafuri, Giriyondo, Emahlatini, Bothashoop, Waverley, Nerston, Josefsdal, Kosibay, Onverwacht, Sani Pass, Boesmansnek, Tellebridge
Ongeluksnek, Ramatsiliso, Mononsthapass, Pekabridge, Makhaleng and .Sephaphusgate

The two seaports are Mosselbay and Saldanha.)

Government discouraged all domestic public travel, including on planes, trains, buses and taxis.

“The current circumstances require extraordinary measures. Gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited. Large government gatherings will be cancelled.

“Effective immediately all non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside the country prohibited. Where small gatherings are unavoidable, organisers will have to ensure stringent measures.”

He said all schools would be closed as from Wednesday until after Easter weekend. Higher education facilities would also be impacted, with further announcements to follow after further consultations with the tertiary sector.

Visits to all correctional services facilities would be suspended for 30 days.

Ramaphosa called on shopping centres and other venues to improve their hygiene controls. He said hand-shaking should be anathema, with elbow touching encouraged.

All businesses would need to ensure they intensified measures regarding hygiene control.

He said “We will increase the capacity of hospitals” and introduce a refined monitoring system for the disease along with a mass campaign to further educate the public about how to contain the disease.

Funding would be made available to reinforce the systems being introduced.

Ramaphosa called for the regular washing of hands, coughing into a tissue or a flexed elbow, and avoiding people with cold or flu-like symptoms. He called for a change of behaviour, and limited contact with other people.

A national command council on the crisis would be chaired by Ramaphosa to deal with all aspects of the emergency response, to meet three times a week. It would include the interministerial committee, as well as other stakeholders.

Government would need a comprehensive plan that would limit further damage to the economy but placing the fight against further transmission at the top of the list.

“We must accept the anxiety this virus causes, but we must fight panic and fake news.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear and panic. We must stop spreading unverified and fake news. While we are facing a medical emergency far graver than we have experienced in recent times, we are not helpless. We have the expertise, means and knowledge to fight this disease. We also have partners, various countries and institutions, working with us. If we act swiftly we can limit the effects of the disease.”

He said the virus had the potential “to bring us closer together … even though we are limiting contact … we must work together and collaborate … it requires solidarity and compassion. Those who have resources must assist those who are vulnerable and in need.”

He called on all sectors of society to “play our part”.

“We thank those people who suspected that they may have been exposed to the virus, for coming forward and taking measures to prevent further transmission to otherwise.”

He thanked the country’s medical teams for putting their own interests second in being on the front line.

Ramaphosa confirmed that the accurate figure of how many people had been repatriated to Limpopo from Wuhan in China was actually only 104. It had earlier been expected that 122 citizens would be making the journey.

He said: “This is the greatest ‘Thuma Mina’ moment for our country. This epidemic will pass. It is up to us to determine how long it will last and how damaging it will be, and how long it will take our economy and country to recover.

“If we act now, and decisively, I am sure we can overcome it. We have never been defeated when we act in a united way.”

You can watch Ramaphosa’s address below:

Video courtesy SABC.

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