State is considering 21-day lockdown to halt spread of Covid-19
Individuals would only be allowed to leave their homes under strictly controlled circumstances, such as buying food, seeking medical care or visiting a pharmacy
A three-week national lockdown is among the proposals being weighed up by the government as it considers how best to manage SA’s surging Covid-19 outbreak.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation later on Monday evening, and announce further restrictions on trade, travel and social interaction to try to contain the outbreak, which has reached 402 cases in the less than three weeks since the first case was announced on March 5.
He declared a national state of disaster on March 15, announcing sweeping measures to try to slow transmission of the virus, but the number of cases has risen more than six-fold since then, casting doubt on the efficacy of the measures imposed to date. There were 61 confirmed cases on March 15.
Ramaphosa met business leaders on Sunday, and then convened a meeting of the national command council, which he established to co-ordinate SA’s response to Covid-19. A critical issue being weighed up by the government is the trade-off between saving lives and further damaging the economy.
One of the proposals on the table is a 21-day “stay at home” national lockdown, in which individuals will only be allowed to leave their homes under strictly controlled circumstances, such as buying food, seeking medical care, or visiting a pharmacy.
The plan, seen by Business Day, proposes that homeless people either stay where they are or in temporary accommodation sites. Essential personnel such as healthcare professionals and the police will be exempted from these restrictions.
The plan, which draws on China’s experience, proposes reducing transport and movement by closing some modes of public transport, and minor roads, leaving only the main roads open
It also proposes a huge house-to-house screening and testing programme, to identify as many cases as possible, and careful monitoring of the data to identify hotspots.
SA’s biggest doctor organisation, the South African Medical Association (Sama) on Monday urged the government to impose an immediate and complete lockdown of all non-essential services.
“We have witnessed the exponential growth of coronavirus in many countries, and the catastrophic effect this has on health systems. Our own research indicates that community-based spread becomes rampant around the 400 case mark, with health systems becoming overwhelmed in less than two weeks from that point. We reached that mark today,” said Sama chairperson Angelique Coetzee.