President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a country-wide lockdown, where only absolutely essential personnel — such as health workers in the public and private sectors, soldiers and police — are allowed to work. This also includes essential personnel in the food, banking and basic services’ industries.
People who require medical care will be allowed to leave home for restricted periods. People will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances.
Interrupting the chain of transmission
“The nationwide lockdown will be enacted in terms of the Disaster Management Act, and will entail the following from midnight on Thursday, 26th March, until midnight, Thursday the 16th of April,” Ramaphosa said.
“All South Africans will have to stay at home.”
Contingencies for the homeless will also be made — either to their existing location or, where available, alternative temporary accommodation sites for the 21-day lockdown period.
Only clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and grocery stores will remain open.
The lockdown will also include a reduction in some modes of public transport, and transport will be organised for essential health workers. Due to disruptions in supply and distribution of goods, medical and other supplies will be secured and stored in bulk, including supplies such as personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Ramaphosa said: “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 (SANDF) be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented.”
“This nationwide lockdown will be accompanied by a public health management programme which will significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management,” he added.
Swift, drastic move needed
The first case of Covid-19 infection in South Africa was reported in early March. As of March 23, close to 13 000 tests have been conducted, with 402 confirmed cases. There have been no confirmed deaths in the country.
According to a government document that Health-e News has seen, it’s clear that South Africa has a worrying number of local transmissions, as Ramaphosa announced in his address last week Sunday when he declared a state of national disaster as a way to curb the rapid spread of Covid-19.
“Given the exponential growth in the epidemic, the actual number of cases is probably much higher and is likely to already be in the thousands. If left unchecked, more than a million cases could occur within weeks, according to mathematical models,” the document states.
It continues: “The goal is to control the spread of Covid-19 through steps to test the susceptible population, quarantine the suspected cases and offer treatment to the infected and confirmed, as well as block the transmission route in the shortest time and limited space.”
Health workers and activists welcome the lockdown
Almost 10 days ago, healthcare workers and activists started a petition to call on the president to lockdown the country in order to deal with coronavirus. The petition by the Public Health Action Team (PHACT) has almost 32 000 signatures calling for the country to shut down.
Dr Atiya Mosam, a public health specialist from PHACT, says that a lockdown is needed in South Africa because of the inequality in a society with an overburdened healthcare system.
“We can’t have one part of the population sitting at home and getting paid a salary, while you have the majority of the population, who are the most vulnerable, still going on with their daily lives as if nothing has happened.”
Mosam also says that because this is a public health emergency, and state healthcare services are “stretched”, that the private sector needs to come on board and provide more affordable access to Covid-19 testing.
“We learn from the National Health Insurance that 80% of the population won’t be able to pay out of pocket, and that means that not enough people will get tested,” she explains.
According to the PHACT petition, they also want the lockdown plan to include: provision of clear steps on how to self-quarantine, widening the net for testing of asymptomatic contacts and travellers, making alternative arrangement for children who rely on school-based meals, rolling out hand sanitisers and hand washing stations on a mass scale and assistance for small businesses and vulnerable employees (casual/part-time) to access paid sick leave.
All hands on deck
As the number of infections increases, more people will be needed to deal with the virus. According to the same document seen by Health-e News, the government plans on conducting house-to-house screening, which will be carried out by volunteers.
A source from the department of health, who asked to not be named, tells Health-e News that unemployed nurses — of all categories, including retired nurses — are being asked to submit their curriculum vitae, in case there is a need for a greater workforce to tackle Covid-19. The source also says that these nurses may be used for door-to-door screening and testing.
According to the document, the army will be based in every province to ensure Coronavirus containment. All provinces will have one sub-unit, except Gauteng, which will have two — one in Tshwane and the other in Johannesburg. Gauteng currently has the highest number of recorded infections.
‘We will be tested like never before’
Ramaphosa says that ministers will give details in the coming days about lockdown implementation and regulation. The next three weeks will be a hard knock for South Africans, but he says citizens should be hopeful.
“We will prioritise the lives and livelihoods of our people above all else and will use all of the measures that are within our power to protect them from the economic consequences of this pandemic. In the days, weeks and months ahead — our resolve, our resourcefulness and our unity as a nation will be tested as never before.”- Health-e News
For more information on the virus, you can the toll-free public line: 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on Whatsapp to the number 060 012 3456 to get updates on Covid-19 in South Africa. Or you can visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za/.