Coronavirus: Ramaphosa closes borders to all citizens from high-risk countries, bans large gatherings

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President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced the closure from Wednesday of South Africa's borders to all foreign nationals from countries highly impacted by the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

"We are imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China as from 18 March 2020," Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

READ | Coronavirus in SA: President confirms first local transmission in the country

The president also announced the closure of schools from Wednesday and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people.

"Given the scale and the speed at which the virus is spreading, it is now clear that no country is immune from the disease or will be spared its severe impact," said Ramaphosa, who declared a "national state of disaster".

To date, 61 people in South Africa have tested positive for novel coronavirus - the second-highest number of cases in Africa after Egypt, which has reported 110.

The number of infections more than doubled over the weekend with 37 new cases announced.

cyril ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation following a special cabinet meeting on matters relating to the COVID-19 epidemic at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. (Phill Magakoe / AFP)

More than 50 of South Africa's coronavirus patients had recently travelled abroad.

Most came from Europe, the new epicentre of the virus, while others had returned from the United States and the Middle East.

But Ramaphosa suggested the latest confirmed cases had contracted the virus in South Africa.

"Initially, it was people who had travelled out of the country, especially from Italy," he said.

"It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus."

Sub-Saharan Africa has so far escaped the worst of the pandemic, which has infected more than 160 000 people worldwide and killed over 6 000.

The region has recorded just over 100 cases in more than 20 countries, almost all of which were imported from the West.

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