A woman jogs at Munich's English Garden as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREAS GEBERT.
A woman jogs at Munich's English Garden as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREAS GEBERT.

Update: Health Minister Zwali Mkhize backtracked on his earlier statement, saying on Wednesday afternoon that South Africans would not be able to walk their dogs during the lockdown. 

Health minister Zweli Mkhize offered a ray of hope to SA’s dog owners and runners on Wednesday morning, saying these activities would be permitted during the three-week national lockdown, which begins at midnight on Thursday.

By Wednesday afternoon, the government had backtracked on this. 

The lockdown is intended to curb local transmission of Covid-19, which has spread to all nine provinces. As of Wednesday, the total number of reported cases stood at 709, with 319 cases in Gauteng.

The lockdown announced by Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night is intended to limit contact between people as much as possible and is focused on ending the mingling of large groups of people, said Mkhize.

However, people would still be able to go for a jog, or walk their dog, he said.

“There shouldn’t be a problem with that,” he said, in an interview on SABC television on Wednesday morning. 

Later in the day police minister Bheki Cele contradicted this, saying it was not allowed.

“There was a little bit of a story that you can walk your dogs. There shall be no dogs walked, it doesn't enhance the call made by the president. Walk your dog around the house, it ends there it does not go beyond that,” he said. 

Mkhize, following the police minister's announcement, said his initial comments were in line with the government's thinking. 

“But we saw the distraction it caused... it does not add any value to the lockdown,” he said. 

The lockdown imposes tight restrictions on the movement of people, who are expected to stay at home except for shopping for essentials such as food and medicines, seeking healthcare or collecting social grants. Essential workers, including people who work in healthcare, emergency services, the police, army, and in the production and distribution of vital supplies such as food and pharmaceuticals are exempted from these rules.

Mkhize urged South Africans to heed the government’s call to limit social interaction, saying the lockdown was not intended to be a three-week holiday. If people failed to observe the rules set for the lockdown, it would not work, he said

The biggest increase in the number of reported cases since Tuesday have been in Gauteng (64), the Western Cape (61), KwaZulu-Natal (11) and the Free State (15). Gauteng’s total now stands at 366 reported cases.

The minister said the concentration of cases around Mangaung in Free State was a worry, and the Red Cross was helping the health department trace people who had been at a church gathering attended by five travellers from overseas who tested positive for the disease. “This is an area of great concern,” he said, describing Mangaung as an emerging epicentre.

There are also clusters of Covid-19 in Sandton, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Cape Town, he said.

The main source of the disease remained travellers from European countries, but there was a growing number of cases of internal transmission. The minister said there had been no deaths, and only two patients were in intensive care. Five of the first cases had completely recovered and had tested negative for Covid-19.

So far three healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19, he said.

UPDATE: March 25 2020
This story has been updated to reflect that government has backtracked on Mkhize's comments. 

kahnt@businesslive.co.za