South Africa’s President Cyril Ramphosa announced “urgent and drastic measures” Sunday night — including banning gatherings of more than 100 people, closing schools and imposing extensive travel bans — to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Using a law known as the Disaster Management Act, he declared a ‘national state of disaster’ enabling the government to have what he called “an integrated and coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus.”
The key elements of his announcement, drawn from his statement and Twitter feed says gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited; Mass celebrations of upcoming national days such as Human Rights Day and other large government events will be cancelled.
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.
The country is also 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 March 18.
“We have cancelled visas to visitors from those countries from today and previously granted visas are hereby revoked,” said Ramaphosa. “Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa.”
All travellers who have entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February will be required to present themselves for testing.
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.
Other steps include washing hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitisers for at least 20 seconds; covering nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed elbow and to 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,” said the President. “We must minimise physical contact with other people, and, encourage the elbow greeting rather than shaking hands.