By Skylar Thoma
MAIN IMAGE: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation to announce that South Africa’s three-week lockdown has been extended to five weeks.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that South Africa’s nationwide lockdown would be extended by two weeks, to the end of April.
Thanking the nation for their efforts to date, Ramaphosa said it was clear the lockdown which began on March 26 had had a significant impact on slowing the rate of new infections. However, he said it was imperative that the restrictions should not be lifted too soon and the decision to extend the lockdown had been taken to prevent an “uncontrollable resurgence of the disease”.
He said the government would roll out a program with three main focuses over the lockdown period. The first would be an intensified public health response to slow down and reduce new infections.
Over the next two weeks, a community testing and screening programme would be rolled out, focusing on the most vulnerable communities in the country, he announced. Those testing positive would be isolated at facilities that were being equipped to house them.
The president announced that 20,000 cellphones had been donated to the government by Vodacom. The phones had been preinstalled with an app that health workers will be able to use to send data on the screening program directly into the national data tracking centre.
A second focus would be to provide economic support measures to assist businesses who were severely impacted by the lockdown. Ramaphosa said the Unemployment Insurance Fund had set aside R40 billion to help employees who are not able to work during the lockdown. The UIF has paid out R356 million to claimants during the lockdown period so far.
Ramaphosa said he would be working with cabinet to develop a comprehensive package of urgent economic measures to respond both to the immediate crisis “and to the severe economic challenges that we must confront in the months ahead”.
He appealed to large businesses “not to resort to force majeure” during #LockdownSA and to continue paying their suppliers if possible.
“The government is continuing its efforts to provide vulnerable communities with food, water, and other basic needs,” he said. “To date, the government has delivered over 11 000 water storage tanks to communities across the country.”
Ramaphosa also announced that he, along with the deputy president, members of his cabinet and the provincial premiers, would take a cut of a third of their salaries for the next three months. This money would be donated to the national Solidarity Fund. The fund was established at the start of the earlier lockdown to assist in providing funds for the country’s Covid-19 fight.
Ramaphosa concluded with a call for vigilance and solidarity.
“The struggle against #COVID19 is far from over. We are only at the beginning of a monumental struggle that will require every resource. We cannot relax. We cannot be complacent.”
“Until we contain the virus, the same rules remain,” he said.
He ended his address saying, “Much is being asked of you. Far more than should ever be asked but we know that this is a matter of survival and we dare not fail. I know we shall recover and I also know we shall overcome. May God bless South Africa and protect her people.”
Several commentators on Twitter expressed admiration for Ramaphosa’s difficult decision.