Complacency in South Africa's battle against the Covid-19 pandemic could be disastrous, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Monday.
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa wrote South Africa "chose to err on the side of caution" in implementing a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"With the declaration of a national state of disaster and the imposition of a nationwide lockdown we entered uncharted waters. South Africa has never had to deal with a public health emergency of this magnitude," Ramaphosa wrote.
"We had to act quickly to save lives. And we must acknowledge that, in the days and weeks that have followed, the provision of support to our country's most vulnerable citizens has been slower than required, and that lapses have occurred."
He said imposing a nationwide lockdown at short notice presented several challenges.
"We have had to weigh up the proportionality of the national response and the extent of restrictions we would need to impose.
"We ultimately chose to err on the side of caution. And as the presentation by the ministry of health last week indicated, enforcing a lockdown at the time we did has slowed down the rate of infection and, more importantly, bought us time to prepare for a probable surge in infections in the coming weeks and months," Ramaphosa said.
He was referring to the presentation in which Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the chairperson of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize's Covid-19 advisory group, said South Africa has managed to delay the inevitable exponential spread of the disease.
Ramaphosa said, in enforcing the lockdown, they had to consider the impact "on an already floundering economy in both the long and short term, and the impact of this substantial disruption on the livelihoods of millions of people".
"We had to consider what weeks of confinement to the home would mean for the employed not paid regular salaries, for the unemployed and those seeking work, for those in casual or seasonal employment, for those in the informal sector, for the indigent and for the vulnerable."
He said Cabinet will finalise a set of measures to respond to the impact of the lockdown on the livelihoods of South Africans.
This has been preceded by a range of engagements with a number of stakeholders, including business, labour, religious organisations, civil society and the Presidential Economic Advisory Council, he said.
"The social partners have put forward a number of proposals on interventions that could address the immediate vulnerability of the poorest of the poor, most of whom rely on social assistance to survive.
"Even when the nationwide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some time to come.
"We are at a point in our battle with the pandemic where complacency could prove disastrous. I call on each and every one to remain vigilant, to continue to abide by the regulations, and to keep safe and keep others safe."
- Compiled by Jan Gerber