South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday extended the country’s current lockdown measures aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus by a further two weeks to the end of April.
South Africa is Africa’s most industrialised nation and has the most confirmed Coronavirus cases in Africa, but that number is expected to rise as the government embarks on a mass testing drive.
The lockdown, which started on March 27 and was due to last for 21 days ending on April 16th, is one of the toughest measures imposed by an African government, and Ramaphosa vowed a package of support for businesses affected by the economic shutdown.
South Africa remains the most affected country in Africa by the pandemic, with 2,415 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, the spread of Covid-19 to date has been far less severe than expected.
“After careful consideration of the available evidence, the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to extend the nationwide lockdown by a further two weeks, beyond the initial 21 days,” Ramaphosa said.
“This means that most of the existing lockdown measures will remain in force until the end of April.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted in a national address last week that the rate of new infections had slowed to just 4% since stringent lockdown measures were implemented on March 27, down from 42% when the virus first arrived in the country. More than 83,000 tests have been conducted so far, although this remains well below the target of 10,000-15,000 tests per day.
The lockdown measures that are in place, forbid South Africans from leaving their homes except to seek medicine or medical care, buy food and supplies or collect a social grant. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes is also prohibited.
In his address to the nation Thursday, Ramaphosa said that while there was still a need for greater testing and efforts to gauge the infection rate, this represented “real progress.”
However, he cautioned that ending the lockdown too early risked “reversing the gains” and “rendering meaningless the sacrifices” made by all South Africans.
Milestones for reopening
On Monday, South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and chairman of the country’s Covid-19 advisory committee, Salim Abdool Karim, gave a live online briefing to outline the criteria under which the country would be reopened.
Karim suggested that the current trajectory was due to “curtailed community transmission from effective early interventions” but stressed that an “exponential curve is almost inevitable.”
He said that whether the lockdown would be lifted would depend on the average rate of new infections between April 10 and April 16. Should infections rise by more than 90 per day, an extension will be implemented, but daily increases of between 45 and 89 may open the door to an easing of restrictions.
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