In a solemn, wide-ranging address to the nation on Monday evening, March 23, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced measures which place the country in lockdown for 21 days, from midnight, Thursday March 26 to Thursday April 16.
The announcement follows a six-fold spike in confirmed Covid-19 infections, from 61 to 402, in the eight days since his previous public address.
“Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands,” said President Ramaphosa
People are confined to their homes for the lockdown period, and may only go out to buy food and medicine, to access medical care, and to collect social grants.
President Ramaphosa assured the country that food supply chains would remain open, that food store shelves would remain stocked, and he appealed to people not to indulge in panic buying.
He also announced that measures were being put in place to prohibit “unjustified price hikes”.
“I want to make it clear that we expect all South Africans to act in the interest of the South African nation and not in their own selfish interests. We will therefore act very strongly against any attempts at corruption and profiteering from this crisis.”
President Ramaphosa made it clear that government is determined to enforce the existing and new containment measures: “The nation-wide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society. I have accordingly directed the South African National Defence Force be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented.”
The country must continue to function during the lockdown period, so a number of essential service occupation categories and businesses are exempted from closure and the movement ban.
Pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers will remain open, as will companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies.
Health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency services personnel, those in security services – such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers – and other people necessary for the response to the pandemic are exempted from the lockdown.
Also included are those people 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.
Cognisant of the massive economic impact the lockdown will have, particularly in the vulnerable small business sector, the president announced a swathe of support initiatives for businesses, including direct financial support for businesses that are struggling to pay their staff, utilising reserves in the UIF system, and through the tax system, using the employment tax incentive scheme.
A solidarity fund has been established with seed capital of R150 million from government, and to which the business sector has pledged to contribute in the coming weeks. Its purpose, according to President Ramaphosa, is to “focus efforts to combat the spread of the virus, help us to track the spread, care for those who are ill and support those whose lives are disrupted”.