Wednesday | 25 March | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
On Monday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africans on the COVID-19 epidemic for the second time in just over a week. He had already announced a state of disaster last week, and on Monday he announced further drastic steps to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“When I addressed the nation last Sunday, there were over 160 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Today, there are more than 340 000 confirmed cases across the world.” – President Cyril Ramaphosa.
By Monday, 23 March, 402 South Africans had already been infected with the virus. The number increased by 128 in just one day.
“The response of the South African people to this crisis has been remarkable. Millions of people have understood the gravity of the situation. Most South Africans have accepted the restrictions that have been placed on their lives and have taken responsibility for changing their behaviour. I am heartened that every sector of society has been mobilised and has accepted the role that it needs to play.” – President Cyril Ramaphosa
The President said he was concerned that a rapid rise in infections will stretch our health services beyond what they could manage and that many people will not be able to access the care they need. For that reason, we must to everything within our means to reduce the overall number of infections and to delay the spread of infection over a longer period – what is known as flattening the curve of infections.
He also mentioned that the situation in South Africa was extremely dangerous for a population like ours, because our population has large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and also includes high levels of poverty and malnutrition.
“We have learnt a great deal from the experiences of other countries. The countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the virus.” – President Cyril Ramaphosa.
As a consequence, the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown from midnight on 26 March. The President said this is a decisive measure to prevent millions of South Africans from contracting the virus and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
According to Ramaphosa, this measure will have a considerable impact on the lives of people, the society and the economy. However, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater.
The nation-wide lockdown will be enacted in terms of the Disaster Management Act and will entail the following:
- From midnight on Thursday, 26 March, until midnight on Thursday, 16 April, all South Africans will have to stay at home.
- The categories of people who will be exempted from this lockdown are the following: health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services – such as the police, traffic officers, military personnel, soldiers – and other persons necessary for our response to the pandemic.
- It will also include 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 hygiene products. (A full list of essential personnel will be published.)
- Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical advice, buy food, medicine and other supplies, or to collect a social grant such as SASSA.
- Temporary shelters that meet the necessary hygiene standards will be identified for homeless people. Sites are being identified for quarantine and self-isolation for people who cannot self-isolate at home.
- All shops and businesses will be closed, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.
- Companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open. (A full list of the categories of businesses that must remain open will be published.)
- Businesses whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces and underground mining operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations. Firms that are able to continue their operations remotely should do so.
- Provision will be made for essential transport services, including transport for essential staff and for patients who need to be transported elsewhere.
The nationwide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society. Therefore, the President instructed that the South African National Defence Force (SADF) be deployed to support the South African Police Service (SAPS) in ensuring that the measures announced are implemented.
This nationwide lockdown will be accompanied by a public health management programme which will significantly increase screening, testing and contact tracing, and medical management. Community health teams will focus on expanding screening and testing where people live, focusing first on high density and high-risk areas.
To ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed, a system will be put in place for “centralised patient management” for severe cases and “decentralised primary care” for mild cases.
Emergency water supplies using water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes and communal standpipes will be provided to informal settlements and rural areas.
A number of additional measures will be implemented with immediate effect to strengthen prevention measures. Some of those measures include the following:
- South African citizens and residents arriving from high-risk countries will automatically be placed under quarantine for 14 days.
- Non-South Africans arriving on flights from the high-risk countries we prohibited a week ago will be turned back.
- International flights to Lanseria Airport will be temporarily suspended.
- International travellers who arrived in South Africa from high-risk countries after 9 March will be confined to their hotels until they have completed a 14-day quarantine period.
The president also announced a set of interventions that will alleviate economic problems to some extent. The interventions include the following:
- Following consultation with social partners, the government has set up a Solidarity Fund to which South African businesses, organisations and individuals, and members of the international community, can contribute.
- The fund will focus on efforts to combat the spread of the virus, help to track the spread, care for those who are ill and support those whose lives are disrupted.
The fund has a website – www.solidarityfund.co.za – and money could be deposited into the account since Monday evening. (The fund is not managed by Solidarity but by the government.)
The government gave R150 million and the private sector has already pledged to support the fund.
The President also announced that a safety net will be developed to support persons in the informal sector where most of the businesses will suffer as a result of this shutdown. More details in this regard will be announced at a later stage.
To alleviate congestion at payment points, old age pensions and disability grants will be available from 30 to 31 March 2020, while other grants will be available from 1 April. All channels for collection will remain open, including ATMs, retail points of sale, post offices and cash pay points.
The government will support people whose livelihoods will be affected by the COVID-19 virus in the following ways:
- The government is in consultation on a proposal for a special dispensation for companies that are in distress because of COVID-19. This proposal entails that employees receive wage payments through a temporary employee relief scheme that will enable companies to pay employees directly during this period, thereby avoiding retrenchments.
- Any employee who falls ill through exposure at their workplace may claim compensation through the Compensation Fund.
- Commercial banks have been exempted from provisions of the Competition Act to enable them to develop common approaches to debt relief and other necessary measures. The government has met with most of the major banks and expects that most banks will put measures in place within the next few days.
- According to the President, many large companies that are currently closed have accepted their responsibility to pay workers affected. We call on larger businesses in particular to take care of their employees during this period.
- If it should be necessary, the government will utilise reserves within the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to extend support to those workers in small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and other vulnerable firms who are faced with loss of income and whose companies are unable to provide support. (Details in this regard will be made available within the next few days.)
The government will assist businesses in distress in the following ways:
- Using the tax system, we will provide a tax subsidy of up to R500 per month for the next four months for employees in the private sector that earn less than R6 500. This will help more than 4 million employees.
- Tax compliant businesses with a turnover of less than R50 million will be allowed to delay 20% of their PAYE liabilities over the next four months, and to pay a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payment over the next six months without any interest or penalties. This intervention is expected to assist over 75 000 SMEs.
- The government is exploring the temporary reduction of employer and employee contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and employer contributions to the Skills Development Fund.
- The Department of Small Business Development has made over R500 million available immediately to assist SMEs in distress through a simplified application process.
- The Industrial Development Corporation, with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, has put a package of more than R3 billion together for industrial funding to address the situation of vulnerable firms and to fast-track financing for companies critical to the government’s efforts to combat the virus and its economic impact.
- The Department of Tourism has made an additional R200 million available to assist SMEs in the tourism and hospitality sector who are under particular stress due to the new travel restrictions.
The President also encouraged South Africans and ensured them that we as a nation would conquer this together. He asked South Africans to work together and treat each other with compassion, and to be patient.
God bless South Africa!
* All information was correct at the time of publication.