John Steenhuisen is pictured in his office at parliament in Cape Town in this May 31 2016 file photo. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF
John Steenhuisen is pictured in his office at parliament in Cape Town in this May 31 2016 file photo. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF

Political parties have welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown, with the DA saying the Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest crisis the country has faced in 26 years.

On Monday evening Ramaphosa announced the  21-day lockdown, which will take effect at midnight on Thursday.

He announced a range of measures aimed to cushion SA’s economy. He also announced the deployment of the army to help enforce the measures.

SA has been in a national state of disaster for more than a week, but in this time the infection rate has risen dramatically. More than 400 people have tested positive for Covid-19, the bulk in Gauteng.

Gauteng is SA’s most populous province and the country’s economic hub. Ramaphosa has taken a non-partisan approach in combating the spread of the virus, and has met political parties represented in the National Assembly as part of the government's response to the crisis.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the measures announced by Ramaphosa were important in SA’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

He said the DA welcomed the announcement of a Solidarity Fund to support the vulnerable in the wake of this crisis, and thanked the patriotic South Africans who had made donations to it.

“Locking down our country and deploying the SANDF is something no South African would ever want to see in peacetime, but given the severity of our challenge it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“The threat of this virus is akin to a wartime situation, and this requires of each of us to make sacrifices in our daily lives, and to some of the liberties of our democratic society,” Steenhuisen said.

He said three weeks of drastic measures could save many lives and buy the country “critical time” for health care professionals to deal with the unfolding crisis.

“What is important right now is that every South African recognises the gravity of the situation. This is not something that happens far away and to other people. It is not something that might happen to us somewhere down the line. It is here already, and the full impact will hit us very soon,” Steenhuisen said.

“It will test our health care system and it will test our ability to withstand an economic onslaught like nothing before. But above all, it will test the resolve of our people, and this is where we can take great strength,” Steenhuisen said.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said the ANC believed the move was a “necessary, proactive measure to effectively combat, curb and defeat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

He said the measures indicated how serious the government was about ensuring that the effects of the pandemic were contained.

“We urge all South Africans to show unconditional commitment, support and co-operation during these challenging times,” Magashule said.

The EFF said the party was aware that the lockdown would cause devastating economic consequences, but that it was the only way to contain the spread of a deadly virus, “which cannot be addressed by SA’s health-care system in its current state”.

The EFF called on the government to pay particular attention to poor communities and people to ensure they do not run out of basic services such as food and health-care essentials. The party also added that support of small businesses should be expedited as many South Africans, particularly street traders, and businesses that survive from the tourism industry, will be “devastatingly affected”.

“We all carry the obligation to defeat the rapid spread of the virus and should at this critical moment, work towards total elimination of the virus. Let us all work in unison to defeat the virus, which has potential to kill a lot of our people,” the EFF said.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said it was a drastic step, but that the virus necessitated drastic steps to prevent the “catastrophic” spread of the disease.

“The national defence force’s involvement means that the country basically finds itself in a national state of emergency. These drastic steps are particularly necessary due to the high incidence of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis in SA as such individuals’ immune systems are already suppressed,” Groenewald said.  

He said the FF Plus supported the steps taken as it seems to have been the most effective way to prevent the loss of lives in other countries. “The party is, thus, appealing to all South Africans to co-operate in order to limit the spread of the virus at all costs,” Groenewald said.

Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the SACP, which forms part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC, welcomed the measures announced by Ramaphosa.  

mailovichc@businesslive.co.za