South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance applauded the 21-day lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night to combat the spread of Covid-19, calling it the right thing to do in a situation similar to war time.
The smaller, but influential Economic Freedom Fighters noted the lockdown from midnight on Thursday until April 16 would have “devastating economic consequences” but was also the only logical move to contain the novel coronavirus.
In an address broadcast live on television, Ramaphosa said all South Africans would be compelled to stay at home, save for essential services such as health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services – such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel and soldiers.
Speaking after South Africa announced a spike to 402 in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, Ramaphosa said he had directed the army to be deployed to support police in enforcing compliance with the ban on people leaving their homes except “under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant”.
In a move he acknowledged would hurt the already frail economy, Ramaphosa said all shops and businesses would be closed, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the JSE stock exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said the measures announced by the president were of critical importance in efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19, which has wreaked havoc in many countries around the world after first emerging in China in December.
“Locking down our country and deploying the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) is something no South African would ever want to see in peacetime, but given the severity of our challenge it is absolutely the right thing to do,” he said in a statement.
“The threat of this virus is akin to a wartime situation, and this requires of each of us to make sacrifices in our daily lives, and to some of the liberties of our democratic society.”
Three weeks of drastic measures now could save many lives and buy the country critical time for healthcare professionals to deal with the unfolding crisis, he said, warning: “If we don’t make this sacrifice now, we will pay a far greater price in the long run.”
He reiterated the DA’s support for government efforts against the pandemic and urged Ramaphosa to consider the opposition party’s proposals for an economic recovery package to deal with the devastating effect of Covid-19 on households, businesses and jobs.
“We have to put in place, right away, the measures to rebuild our economy and shield employers and employees from the worst damage,” Steenhuisen added.
The EFF urged the government to pay attention to poor communities in order to make sure they did not run out of food and healthcare essentials.
“The support of small businesses should be expedited because many South Africans, particularly street traders and businesses that survive from the tourism industry will be devastatingly affected, ” it said.
One of South Africa’s oldest trade unions, UASA, gave the thumbs up to plans announced by Ramaphosa to utilise reserves within the Unemployment Insurance Fund to extend support to the workers of small businesses and other vulnerable firms faced with loss of income and unable to provide support employees.
It was also happy about the establishment of a Solidarity Fund which people and organisations can donate to, to help fight the epidemic.
Agricultural association Agri SA said the drastic measures unveiled by Ramaphosa were necessary.
“We have to flatten the curve to stop a large-scale catastrophe in South Africa,” Agri SA’s executive director Omri van Zyl said.
“The 21-day lockdown will have a massive impact on the economy, but it remains imperative that essential services remain intact.”
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