South Africa Declares State of Disaster Over Coronavirus

South Africa declared a national state of disaster over the coronavirus outbreak and announced the continent’s most drastic measures yet to curb its spread.

The government is imposing travel bans on some nationals, shutting schools and banning public gatherings of more than 100 people, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday in a televised address to the nation after an emergency cabinet meeting. The state is also finalizing a package of measures to minimize the effect of global pandemic on the economy, he said.

“We have decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and to reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy,” he said. “There can be no half measures.”

South Africa has 61 confirmed Covid-19 cases to date, and the bulk of those infected had traveled to other countries previously hit by the disease. Health authorities expect it is only a matter of time before local transmissions increase, and aim to minimize and slow those as much as possible to alleviate the impact on an already overburdened public health system.

Nationals from the U.S., U.K., China, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Iran and Spain will be denied visas, while any foreigners who’ve visited a high-risk country in the past 20 days will also be refused entry, Ramaphosa said. Travelers from medium-risk countries such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore will be required to undergo high-intensity screening.

Delaying mechanism

“Travel restrictions will not stop the virus from coming in,” but will help delay its arrival, said Cheryl Cohen, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ head of respiratory diseases.

South African citizens returning from countries with high incidences of the virus will be subject to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on their arrival. Thirty-five of the country’s 53 land ports of entry will be shut from March 16, while two of its eight sea ports will be closed for passengers and crew changes.

All schools will close from March 18 until after the Easter weekend, while mid-year holidays will be shortened to compensate for the loss in teaching time.

“It is true that we are facing a grave emergency, but if we act together, if we act now and if we act decisively, I am sure we will overcome it,” Ramaphosa said.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement.

“Now, more than ever, we must put politics aside if we are going to succeed in the fight against Covid-19,” John Steenhuisen, the DA’s acting leader, said in a statement. “We must band together to formulate a collective response to this virus in order to overcome it.”

— With assistance by Paul Burkhardt, Paul Vecchiatto, and Antony Sguazzin

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