South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has declared a state of emergency that will force the country into lockdown in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Africa’s second-largest economy.
In a televised address, President Ramaphosa said the 21-day lockdown was needed “urgently and dramatically”. On Monday, South Africa surpassed Morocco as the African country with the highest number of confirmed cases of the deadly COVID-19.
A week ago, South Africa had 50 confirmed cases. That number is more than 400. “Immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to avoid human costs of this virus,” Ramaphosa told a country of over 56 million people.
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He added: “The action we are taking now will have lasting economic costs. But we are sure that the cost of not acting now will be far greater.”
The president had earlier declared a state of national disaster last week. The state of emergency represents a recognition of advanced threat levels.
Under the new dispensation, all businesses are expected to be closed. Exceptions, however, remain for pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers as well as laboratories, banks and other essential financial services.
Health and security workers are also expected to keep working.
To keep the lockdown active, soldiers of the South African National Defense Force will be employed in conjunction with the police.
South Africa already has the world’s leading count of HIV patients. There are also tens of thousands immunocompromised people in a population that is also the world’s most unequal in terms of wealth distribution.