Lockdown: Ramaphosa says scientific analysis of whether it is working is expected within days

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his delegation meeting with His Grace Bishop Dr Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and his delegation meeting with His Grace Bishop Dr Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane.
Presidency via Twitter

South Africans will soon know if the national lockdown is working.

On Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government would soon receive a scientific assessment on whether the national lockdown, which ends next week, had worked.

READ | Ramaphosa defends 21-day lockdown decision, govt set for more talks

This amid uncertainty about the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and an economic meltdown that could see almost 400 000 people losing their jobs in the coming weeks.

South Africa enters its 13th day of the lockdown on Wednesday with the number of confirmed infections at 1 749 - an increase of 63 from the previous day.

Ramaphosa said it was unclear if the lockdown was working.

"We are still doing an assessment about the effectiveness of the lockdown. In terms of compliance, we are finding that many of our people throughout the country are abiding by the lockdown, and its regulations. There are pockets, here and there, of people who are still getting on with their lives as though there is no coronavirus.

"We will be able to make a proper, if you like, scientific assessment, in a few days' time, to see how well this lockdown is serving the people of our country."

Ramaphosa said without the lockdown, the infection rate in the country would have been much higher. Many other countries are following suit, he added.

Covid-19 fast facts:

  • Number of confirmed infections: 1 749
  • Number of tests: 58 098
  • Number of recoveries: 45
  • Number of confirmed deaths: 13

He also had strong words for those who were not complying with the lockdown.

"We want to say to those people, as much as we are in the middle of this lockdown period, that this is a serious, serious disease. It is affecting people throughout the world and we, as South Africans, must also take it seriously. We must abide by the regulations that have been published by [the] government."

Debate in senior government circles is increasingly turning to the economic question, with some senior role players arguing even though a humanitarian catastrophe should be avoided an economic meltdown could be as disastrous.

Ramaphosa has been adamant the health crisis should take precedence, but it seems projections about GDP growth and job losses released by the SA Reserve Bank on Monday has made decision-makers sit up.

The co-head of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases' Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis, Professor Cheryl Cohen, in an interview on 702 on Tuesday, said there was broad consensus among various groups of experts and scientists who were tasked with providing projections and modelling to the government. This included analysis around whether the lockdown measures were working and projections of the spread of the disease over the coming weeks and months.

"Hopefully, those results will be made public very soon. There is a lot of consensus, but what I think must also be understood, is that there is a lot of uncertainty," Cohen added.

'Minister flouts regulations'

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has summoned Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams who was photographed at a dinner party over the weekend.

Mduduzi Manana, who resigned as deputy minister of higher education in 2017 after admitting to assaulting two women in a nightclub, posted a picture on Instagram of a luncheon with Ndabeni-Abrahams over the weekend, seemingly flouting lockdown regulations.

On Tuesday, Rampahosa told journalists he had seen the picture.

"I have asked her to come and see me so that we can discuss the impact of visuals like these," he said, adding the government wanted to "instill a clear message about social distancing, that you must stay at home and don't go around on visitations".

In a statement on Tuesday, Manana apologised for posting the picture "without clear context", saying the minister was at his house to fetch equipment that his "foundation" was donating to aid the Covid-19 effort.

Ndabeni-Abrahams has not commented on the matter.

ALSO READ | Ndabeni-Abrahams lockdown picture: It was not social lunch, visit was for 'essential business' - Manana

The continuing lockdown is likely to devastate the economy, projections show.

On Monday, the SA Reserve Bank warned about 370 000 jobs could be lost this year because of the lockdown, and the economy could contract by between 2 and 4%. The central bank also expects around 1 600 businesses to close their doors in the near future.

1.2 million infections

The number of infections globally stood at more than 1.2 million, according to the World Health Organisation. The number of cases in the UK continues to rise despite a drop in the number of reported cases on Tuesday, with more than 51 000 confirmed cases and more than 5 370 deaths.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's condition is reportedly stable - he was moved to the intensive care unit this week after his condition worsened, the BBC reported. He is reportedly stable and has not been put on a ventilator.

Protective gear

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize faces a court challenge by the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union over a lack of protective gear at hospitals.

But on Tuesday afternoon, Mkhize said the country still had enough stock for the next six to eight weeks.

In addition, the government received a donation from the Motsepe Foundation for the purchasing of protective gear.

Researchers from the universities of Iowa and Georgia announced they have developed a vaccine that fully protects mice against MERS, according to a study published in the journal mBio on Tuesday.

MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - broke out in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is a coronavirus similar to Covid-19.

Scientists are also trying to find a safe, efficient drug to treat severe Covid-19 cases. Several are currently undergoing a clinical trial, although none have received approval yet.

But researchers from Monash University in Australia have found an anti-parasitic drug called Ivermectin which killed the virus in 48 hours in a laboratory setting.

The results are promising but were obtained in vitro and the drug should first be trialled on humans to deem it safe for usage in the case of Covid-19. The research was published in the journal Antiviral Research on 3 April.

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