Lockdown: 'Stay strong,' urges businesslike Ramaphosa


While President Cyril Ramaphosa contrasted the grim realities of the Covid-19 pandemic with the hope for a better future on Tuesday, his speech on Thursday evening was a much more technocratic affair.

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Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that some of the lockdown measures will be relaxed on 1 May, and explained that there will be five lockdown levels. South Africa is currently under level five until the end of April.

The president announced that the country would move down to level four from 1 May, resulting in some restrictions being lifted in an effort to kick-start the economy and allow more businesses to operate.

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa announced an unprecedented R500 billion social and economic support package to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the process, he lauded South Africans for their fortitude, acknowledged the suffering and reiterated the gravity of the situation, but also sought to inspire hope for a better future.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa started off with some background to the virus that lead to South Africa enforcing a lockdown.

"I am reiterating these basic facts – which by now are probably familiar to many of you – because they explain the actions we have taken to date and they inform the measures I am announcing this evening [Thursday]," he said.

He said they sought to avoid a massive surge in infections and an uncontrollable increase in the number of people needing medical care.

"Our approach has been based on the principles of social distancing, restriction of movement and stringent basic hygiene practices.

"By delaying the spread of the virus, we have had time to prepare our health facilities and mobilise some of the essential medical supplies needed to meet the inevitable increase in infections.

"And it is in so doing, that we hope to save tens of thousands of lives."

'Our people need to eat'

He said the evidence suggests that the lockdown has been working, and that the World Health Organisation has commended South Africa for acting swiftly and following scientific advice to delay the spread of the virus.

"Yet, while a nationwide lockdown is probably the most effective means to contain the spread of the coronavirus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.

"Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living. Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment."

He then explained the different levels of the lockdown, as well as the changes that will take effect when the country moves from level five to level four next Friday.

Ramaphosa thanked those who provide essential services and goods.

"It is thanks to your efforts that we have been able to make such valuable progress in combating this pandemic."

He said he had deployed more than 70 000 defence force personnel to assist with various parts of the coronavirus response. This includes providing assistance in essential areas, such as the provision of water supply, infrastructure maintenance and health services.

But he also called on citizens to put their shoulder to the wheel.

"This is a crucial moment in our struggle against the coronavirus. It is a time for caution. It is a time to act responsibly. It is a time for patience," Ramaphosa said.

"Yet, we are all called upon, at some time in our lives, to make great sacrifices for our own future and for the future of others.

"There are times when we must endure hardship and difficulty, so that we can enjoy freedom and prosperity into the future."

He said during the past five weeks South Africans have demonstrated to the entire world what a nation can achieve with courage, determination and solidarity.

"We must not give up now. I am asking you to stay strong. I am asking you to remain united," he said. "Stay home, stay safe."

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