Coronavirus: South Africa declares state of disaster

Fakir Hassen

Johannesburg, Mar 16 (PTI) South Africa has announced a National State of Disaster over the coronavirus crisis as the number of people infected by the disease in the country reached 61.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement in a live national television broadcast on Sunday.

'We have decided to establish a national command council and will meet three times a week to coordinate all aspects of this emergency response,' Ramaphosa said.

The president announced 'social distancing measures' in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and said further details will be issued on Monday.

These include a prohibition on gatherings of more than 100 people, cancellation of all large celebrations of national days, including the Human Rights Day on March 21, and the closure of all schools from March 18 until after the Easter weekend.

Visas will be refused to anyone who has visited a high-risk country in the last 20 days, and 35 of the country's 53 land ports will also be shut as of Monday, Ramaphosa said.

The President urged citizens to avoid international travel to high risk countries, but cautioned against any panic.

'We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear and panic. We must stop spreading unverified and fake news,' he said.

'While we are facing a medical emergency far graver than we have experienced in recent times, we are not helpless. We have the expertise, means and knowledge to fight this disease. We also have partners, various countries and institutions, working with us,' the President asserted.

'If we act swiftly, we can limit the effects of the disease,' he added.

Ramaphosa said the Cabinet had decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease and reduce its impact on the South African society.

'So far SA has 61 confirmed cases, but we are expecting that number to rise. This calls for serious measures. Given the scale and the speed at which the virus is spreading, it is now clear no country is immune or will be spared,' he said.  'The world is facing a medical emergency, far graver than what we have experienced in over a century,' Ramaphosa said.

The President said the virus' impact on the South African economy would be huge, especially with the sudden drop in international tourism and severe instability in all global markets.

Steps would be taken to mitigate this, Ramaphosa said.

To date, 61 people in South Africa have tested positive for novel coronavirus -- the second-highest number of cases in Africa after Egypt, which has reported 110 so far.

The number of infections more than doubled over the weekend with 37 new cases announced. PTI FH IJT