In a career-defining announcement on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that without decisive action, infections in South Africa will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands.
Announcing South Africa's first national lockdown in nearly 26 years of democracy, Ramaphosa revealed a wide-ranging set of interventions to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The most notable measure was the prohibition of people leaving their homes for 21 day between Thursday, 26 March and 16 April, unless for essential purposes, including shopping for food and medication, or to seek medical treatment.
He told the nation that government's analysis of the progress of the pandemic informed his administration that the country needed to urgently and dramatically escalate its response.
South Africa's confirmed cases of Covid-19 rose to 402 on Monday, increasing by a staggering 128 cases in one day.
"This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, with a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition," said the president.
Several further interventions would be implemented, including emergency water supplies, water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes and communal standpipes in informal settlements and rural areas.
Those exempted from the lockdown will include priority services such as:
- Health workers, emergency personnel and security services;
- Those involved in the production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, the maintenance of power, water and telecommunications services, laboratory services and the provision of medical and hygiene products.
Ramaphosa said people would not be allowed to leave their homes except for essential reasons, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies, or collect a social grant.
He added that temporary shelters that meet the necessary hygiene standards would be identified to help homeless people.
Shops and businesses will also be closed, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services - including the JSE - supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.
In an attempt to allay panic, Ramaphosa said while the action government was taking would have lasting economic costs, he was convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater.
"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.
"I call on all of us, one and all, to play our part. To be courageous, to be patient, and above all to show compassion.
"Let us never despair. For we are a nation at one, and we will surely prevail. May God protect our people."
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