By Annisa Essack
Since achieving democracy, South Africa is for the first time facing a major event that will have not only a deadly impact on the health of the citizens but one that has already impacted the already crippled economy, an impact that may well change the way we live and interact over a prolonged period of time. The novel coronavirus took the world by storm and gained momentum so quickly that even developed countries found that they were unable to keep up.
South Africa has been no exception and knowledge of the first patient testing positive, the wheels of government began to turn. Much criticism has been flung against the ruling party with regards to the health sector not being prepared, borders that are not well protected and the repatriation of citizens from the epicentre of the initial outbreak.
As the numbers rose to 61 positive patients, an emergency meeting was called by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The meeting lasted several hours before a stoic and grave, with the full knowledge that this may be the greatest test of his leadership President and the competency of his government, addressed his concerned and fearful citizens on the decisions made pertaining to managing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in South Africa.
The enormity of the situation was quickly impressed on to the citizens as the president announced, succinct and clear, that government has declared the novel coronavirus a national disaster. A national emergency, that will unlock emergency measures and funds under relevant legislation.
With a grim determination etched on his face and a comforting, reassuring tone, proceeded to break down the decisive measures:
A national command council which will coordinate the country’s response to the global pandemic will be headed by the commander-in -Chief and will meet three times a week.
- As of 18 March 2020, a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries, including Italy, Spain, South Korea, China, Iran and the US will be imposed.
- South Africa will stop issuing visas to visitors from certain high-risk countries, and revoke visas which have already been issued.
- South Africans are advised to avoid travelling to or through Europe, the US, the UK, Iran, South Korea and China.
- Foreign nationals from high-risk countries will be denied an entry visa to South Africa.
- South Africans who are returning from high-risk countries will be required to undergo testing and self-isolation.
- Non-essential government travel overseas will be curtailed.
- Non-essential local travel must be curtailed.
- 35 land ports will be shut down from Monday.
- Strengthened surveillance and testing at all international ports
- Domestic travel has been discouraged
- Gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited.
- Upcoming celebrations of national days and government events cancelled.
- Urgent small gatherings only with stringent control
- Schools will be closed from 18 March 2020 until after the Easter holidays.
- Mid-year school holidays shortened by 1 week
- All of those who have visited high-risk countries in the past 14 days are requested to test for the virus
- A tracking and monitoring system will also be implemented to ensure that those who have been infected with the coronavirus are monitored.
- Self-isolation is suggested for anyone who is not critically ill but presents with mild symptoms
- Please follow prevention suggestions and keep contact with others to a minimum
- All prison visits to be cancelled
- An update to the figures with 61 cases
- WITS student who tested positive under quarantine and those who were in contact will be tested
As the country prepares for war-like contingencies, the president also informed the nation that government will be strengthening health surveillance and testing systems, increasing the capacity of hospitals and tracing processes, identifying quarantine sites and partnering private sector for national tracking and tracing.
He added that the local economy will be heavily affected as a result of local and international restrictions which are in place. The government is, therefore, putting together a fiscal support plan and will announce its details soon.
Included in the speech was a request to businesses in South Africa to increase hygiene in shopping malls and entertainment centres, within businesses and a call to all to change behaviour and adopt simple hygiene - hand washing, cover nose & mouth when cough/sneeze, avoid contact with ill, no handshakes and to avoid unnecessary interpersonal contact.
A mass communication campaign on hygiene and prevention will be instituted as military and police vigilance will be increased.
He concluded the meeting by thanking all who had been working hard to ensure that South Africa was safe and informed the nation that the Minister of Higher Education will announce measures today.
His most important message to the nation – “exercise solidarity in an emergency.”