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South Africa Declares State of Emergency, Shuts Borders And Schools As Coronavirus Grips Nation

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa.

The South African government has declared a national state of disaster following the outbreak of coronavirus COVID19 in the country, which has resulted in the government imposing a travel ban on people from Italy, United States, China and others.

In a statement posted on its presidential website, President Cyril Ramaphosa said they have taken these drastic measures in order to contain the spread of coronavirus in South Africa.

“We have decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy. We have now declared a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act.”

He said such measures would enable South Africa to have an integrated and coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus.

Ramaphosa further noted there are 61 confirmed cases of people infected with the virus in the country and this number is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

He said initially, it was people who had travelled out of the country, especially from Italy, who had positively tested for the virus. “It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus.”

To curb the spread of the disease, Ramaphosa said they have imposed a blanket travel ban on several nations, including China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China as from 18 March 2020. We have cancelled visas to visitors from those countries from today and previously granted visas are hereby revoked.

“South African citizens are advised to refrain from all forms of travel to or through the European Union, United States, United Kingdom and other identified high-risk countries such as China, Iran and South Korea. This is effective immediately.”

He said government would continue to regularly issue travel alerts referring to specific cities, countries or regions as the situation evolves based on the risk level.

“Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa. South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa. Travellers from medium-risk countries – such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore – will be required to undergo high intensity screening.

“All travellers who have entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February will be required to present themselves for testing. We will strengthen surveillance, screening and testing measures at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International Airports. South Africa has 72 ports of entry in the country which are land, sea and air ports. Of the 53 land ports, 35 will be shut down with effect from Monday 16 March. Two of the 8 sea ports will be closed for passengers and crew changes.”

Ramaphosa said, effective immediately, all non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of the Republic is prohibited.

“We further discourage all non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus.

Secondly, it is essential therefore that we minimise the risk of the spread of this virus by limiting contact amongst groups of people. While we appreciate the economic, religious, and cultural significance of social and community gatherings, the coronavirus is spread through contact between persons.

“As we have said before, the current circumstances require extraordinary measures to curb the spread of infections. Countries that have heeded the call to implement these radical measures, have fared much better than those than do not.”

He further noted that to encourage social distancing, Cabinet has decided to ban gatherings of more than 100 people and block mass celebrations of upcoming national days such as Human Rights Day and other large government events.

“Where small gatherings are unavoidable, organisers will need to put in place stringent measures of prevention and control. Schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March, and will remain closed until after the Easter Weekend. To compensate, the mid-year school holidays will be shortened by a week.”

He said government is working closely with colleges, universities and other public facilities such as parliament, prisons, police stations and military installations to intensify hygiene control.

“Visits to all correctional centres are suspend for 30 days with immediate effect. Government is aware of the confirmed case of a student who has tested positive for the coronavirus at Wits University. Those who have been in contact with the student will be quarantined.”

Ramaphosa urged businesses including mining, retail, banking, farming to ensure that they take all necessary measures to intensify hygiene control.

“We also call on the management of malls, entertainment centres and other places frequented by large numbers of people to bolster their hygiene control … To further strengthen our health response, government is strengthening its surveillance and testing systems. We are in process of identifying isolation and quarantine sites in each district and metro. Capacity is being increased at designated hospitals in all provinces.

“We are also increasing the capacity of existing contact tracing processes. We are partnering with the private sector to set up a national tracking, tracing and monitoring system of all people infected with the coronavirus and those they have been in contact with. We are undertaking a mass communication campaign on good hygiene and effective prevention behaviour.”

He urged South Africans to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitisers for at least 20 seconds; cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed elbow; avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

“In essence, we are calling for a change of behaviour amongst all South Africans. We must minimise physical contact with other people, and, encourage the elbow greeting rather than shaking hands. Because of the severity of this virus and its rapid spreading, government will make funding available to capacitate the sectors dealing with the national response to the Coronavirus outbreak.”