With less than 24 hours to go, South Africa is gearing up for uncharted waters at midnight on Thursday when the country enters a national 21-day lockdown aimed at saving thousands of lives.
The unprecedented measures will be enforced by the police, with the support of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and are aimed at limiting people’s movement as far as possible, to prevent the spread of the killer coronavirus.
Government ministers spelled out the strict new rules during a marathon briefing in Pretoria on Wednesday night.
They include the closure of borders, railways, ports of entry, restaurants, shebeens and shisanyamas, bottle stores and any shops that aren’t selling food or other essential goods and services.
It’s not going to be easy. But too much is at stake.
Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: “We must take these measures seriously – and hope that they will work. A sacrifice, no doubt, from each and every one of us – for 21 days. But for the sake of our people.”
Dlamini-Zuma has signed off on the regulations that will govern our lives from midnight on Thursday.
They’re aimed at getting people off the streets and away from gatherings of any kind. That means no jogging, dog-walking, or visiting friends. Restaurants, shebeens, shisanyamas, and bottle stores will be closed along with any other place that people gather, from beaches to churches. Fifty people only at a funeral – and that number might be reviewed.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said: “You can’t think that shops and everything else will be business as usual, even when you go to the shops, we will have limited things – essential services – you will not access alcohol… you will not buy clothes.”
The ban on alcohol sales is meant to keep people sober, out of trouble and make more hospital beds remain available.
The message is simple: stay at home. Only go out if necessary.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the efficacy of a country’s lockdown period would depend on the citizens’ commitment.
COVID-19 has brought countries like Italy’s healthcare system to its knees with more than 21,000 people already dead glrobally from the disease. Infections worldwide have surged past 470,000.
WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said countries under lockdown must use the time to attack the virus.
He added everyone must help: “We need the trust of the community and communities should be mobilised to do their share and citizens to do their part.”
Grebreyesus stressed the importance of using the second window of opportunity to defeat the virus.
“The window for opportunity is narrowing and now is the time to act but I think there is still opportunity. I think we squandered the first and I’m making it clear that this is the second opportunity.”
To track the latest developments around the coronavirus both in South Africa and abroad, click on this live status report from Strategix.