South Africans and those living in the country are gearing up for strict coronavirus lockdown measures aimed at fighting the sharp rise of the deadly coronavirus infections.

Addressing the nation on Monday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government would impose nation-wide lockdown as from midnight on Thursday, March 26. 

He said government analysis on the progress of the epidemic is that they need to urgently and dramatically escalate their response.

In announcing the lockdown measures, the President said, “The next few days are crucial.

“Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands.

“This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, with a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition.

“We have learnt a great deal from the experiences of other countries.

“Those countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the disease.

“As a consequence, the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to enforce a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days with effect from midnight on Thursday 26 March.

“This is a decisive measure to save millions of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, the life of the society and the economy, President Ramaphosa said the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater.

The lockdown, which will run till midnight, Thursday 16 April, means that all South Africans will have to stay at home.

Who will be exempted from the lockdown?

President Ramaphosa said health workers in both public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services – such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers – and other persons necessary for the response to the pandemic.

He said it will also include those involved in the production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, the maintenance of power, water and telecommunications services, laboratory services, and the provision of medical and hygiene products, adding that a full list of essential personnel will be published.

Movement of people during the lockdown

According to President Ramaphosa, individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant.

He said temporary shelters that meet the necessary hygiene standards would be identified for homeless people. Sites are also being identified for quarantine and self- isolation for people who cannot self-isolate at home.

All shops and businesses will be closed, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.

Companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open.

The President said while government will publish a full list of the categories of businesses that should remain open, he said companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces, underground mine operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations.

Firms that are able to continue their operations remotely should do so. Provision will be made for essential transport services to continue, including transport for essential staff and for patients who need to be managed elsewhere.

“The nation-wide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society. I have accordingly directed the South African National Defence Force be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented,” he said.

This nationwide lockdown will be accompanied by a public health management programme, which will significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management.

Community health teams will focus on expanding screening and testing where people live, focusing first on high density and high-risk areas.

To ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed, a system will be put in place for ‘centralised patient management’ for severe cases and ‘decentralised primary care’ for mild cases.

Emergency water supplies – using water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes and communal standpipes – are being provided to informal settlements and rural areas.

 There are over 340,000 confirmed cases across the world and in South Africa, the number of confirmed cases has increased six-fold in just eight days from 61 cases to 402 cases.

According to the President who urged citizens to avoid public places and cancel all social activities as the preferred best defence against the virus, otherwise the number will continue to rise.