Ministers explain the blueprint of the impending lockdown

By Christi Nortier 25 March 2020

A usually bustling Kalk Bay is quiet on Tuesday 24 March 2020, just two days before the national lockdown as outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa, an unprecedented measure due to the rapidly spreading virus Covid-19. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Things changed overnight in South Africa on 15 March, and it won’t be the last time it does. Daily Maverick’s Daily Digest will provide the essential bits of information about Covid-19 in South Africa and the world each day. Please do read on to understand these issues more deeply.

As of Tuesday 24 March, globally, there were 414,233 people who had contracted the virus and 105,221 had already recovered from it. By 9pm on Tuesday, 18,630 people had died from the virus. 

It was a Tuesday that felt more overwhelming than any Monday.

A day spent listening intently to ministers explaining the details of South Africa’s national lockdown.

On the evening of 23 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa gave a broad overview of who can do what, where and when. Ministers fleshed out this plan the next morning.

You can have another read of Ramaphosa’s full address here or watch it here.

In short, the country will be shut down for 21 days come midnight of Thursday 26 March in an effort to slow and break the transmission of Covid-19. Greg Nicolson provides more context to how this moment was arrived at.

Among the key issues addressed by ministers yesterday were which workers providing essential services would be exempt from the lockdown to do their jobs, the futility of stockpiling and panic buying, and the continuation of food production.

Financial support was also addressed, such as which businesses will qualify for support and who can and cannot claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund during this time.

They also dispelled the fake news that only companies that are at least 51% black-owned will receive support from the government.

They confirmed that the new Solidarity Fund has already raised hundreds of millions of rand to support businesses and individuals.

Small business owners can call a hotline to find out what support they qualify for. Call 0860 663-7867 or email [email protected]

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said screening and testing for Covid-19 will be focused on densely populated areas and that 10,000 out of the 12,815 tests conducted so far have been in private labs.

Ministers also addressed in some detail as to how water, food, social grants and shelter would be provided to those who need it.

Greg Nicolson has the details of these announcements here and Rebecca Davis answers some burning questions concerning health and economics here


In the wake of these announcements, Eskom has assured that power stations will continue to receive deliveries of coal during the lockdown. However, a source in the National Union of Mineworkers has said this coal will come from mine stockpiles. Eskom has said it has enough coal stockpiled to last an average of 50 days’ worth of supply at each station. Ed Stoddard looked into how the mines might be operating during the lockdown.

Around 250 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members – a “company” – will be sent to each province (except Gauteng, which gets two companies) to assist police and government to enforce the lockdown. Greg Nicolson explains how the SANDF might be used as a “pressure valve” for the police and emergency services during this time.

As new measures are explained and everyone is required to stay put, the Limpopo Health MEC, Phophi Ramathuba, has had to plead with South Africans to stay where they are.

She warned that travelling across provincial borders, to get home to family in rural areas or to get to a holiday home, will contribute to spreading the virus and put the lives of others in danger. Rebecca Davis explains why authorities are at pains to explain this to people and how this type of movement has had disastrous results elsewhere in the world.

By contrast, all German tourists have been asked by their embassy to leave South Africa as soon as possible. This comes after a German tourist travelled from KwaZulu-Natal to the Eastern Cape after he was tested for Covid-19. Yes, his test did read positive by the time he arrived at his new destination. That’s not even the end of it, as Estelle Ellis discovered.

Cape Town may be somewhat redeemed from its beach-picnics-during-a-global-pandemic moment by the suburbs,  after it co-ordinated its residents to help one another out during this time. They are phoning one another, delivering groceries to the elderly or setting up a hand-sanitiser factory in a pottery studio. They co-ordinate under the banner of the Cape Town Together Community Action Network. PS, the beaches really are a no-go now.

Before the lockdown has even begun, the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union is worried about the lack of training and protection provided to nurses and community healthcare workers. Sumeya Gasa met with them and other nurses to hear of their challenges.

Meanwhile, South Africa may be mere weeks away from manufacturing its own reagents needed for Covid-19 tests. As Greg Nicolson writes, there is a global shortage of the reagents and South Africa relies on imports at present.

More than 110 organisations, from the Salt River Heritage Society to the Treatment Action Campaign, have endorsed a Programme of Action to coordinate and steer a public effort and understanding during the lockdown. They write: “In a society as unequal as ours, we must work together to ensure that all safety measures are shared equitably.”

In a time of physical distancing and social solidarity, communication is crucial. Not just having access to it, but making sure it is inclusive and empathetic. Daily Maverick’s latest editorial reflects on why this kind of communication will be a game-changer in the current emergency.

In a time of physical distancing and social solidarity, mental health is also crucial. Take a browse through some of the top picks in music and podcasts chosen by members of the DM team and maybe add them to your own library. If you want to start a home-based exercise routine, then follow the advice of the experts who chatted to Malibongwe Tyilo.

The director-general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on mental health:

“Look after your mental health. It’s normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis. Talking to people you know and trust can help.

“Supporting other people in your community can help you as much as it does them. Check in on neighbours, family and friends. Compassion is a medicine.” DM


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