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S Africa announces 21-day lockdown over coronavirus, calls in Army

Press Trust of India  |  Johannesburg 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced a 21-day lockdown of the country in a bid to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic and called in the army to assist in monitoring the situation.

With the number of COVID-19 infections in South Africa rising to 402 in less than a week, Ramaphosa said the lockdown will take effect from midnight on Thursday.

"The nationwide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society.

"I have accordingly directed the South African National Defence Force be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented," Ramaphosa said.

The nationwide lockdown will be accompanied by a public health management programme which will significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management, he said.

"The spread of COVID-19 is extremely dangerous for a population like South Africa, with a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition," he said.

The president also announced a wide range of measures to protect the vulnerable, including very firm action, with jail sentences for anyone attempting to take advantage of the situation through corruption or profiteering.

"We are concerned that there are a number of businesses that are selling certain goods at excessively high prices. This cannot be allowed.

"We will therefore act very strongly against any attempts at corruption and profiteering from this crisis," Ramaphosa said, adding that special units of the National Prosecuting Authority have been instructed to act immediately against offenders.

Regulations have been put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes, to ensure shops maintain adequate stocks of basic goods and to prevent people from panic buying, he said, adding that it is important for all South Africans to understand that the supply of goods remains continuous and supply chains remain intact.

The action we are taking now will have lasting economic costs but if we do not take action now it will be far greater.

"We expect all South Africans to act in the interest of the nation and not in their own selfish interests," Ramaphosa said as he confirmed that essential services will continue operating.

Visitors from abroad will be quarantined for 14 days and those from high-risk countries will be turned back.

Visitors from high-risk countries who are already in South Africa will be confined to their hotels until they have completed 14 days of quarantine.

Ramaphosa said a solidarity fund has been set up to assist those whose lives will be disrupted.

A billion rand each has already been contributed to this fund by two of South Africa's wealthiest families -- the Oppenheimers and the Ruperts.

Ramaphosa called on all South Africans to act in the national interest and not in their own selfish interests.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 24 2020. 00:46 IST