South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is considering using the army to help implement a possible 21-day shutdown in which citizens’ rights to move freely would be severely curtailed in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
A presentation prepared for the presidency recommends that citizens be allowed to leave their houses only under strictly controlled circumstances and that only grocers, pharmacies and hospitals remain open. It also urged easier access to tests and door-to-door screening in some cases. Many roads will be closed and citizens may need to produce permits to be allowed to travel.
The number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa already is likely to be much higher than the 402 confirmed and, if left unchecked, there could be more than a million within weeks, according to a presentation prepared by Olive Shisana, a public health specialist and adviser to the president.
“Entire communities will need to buy in to the need to prioritize contributions and actions in the common interests of the country,” the presentation says. “Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances.”
Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster on March 15, when the number of cases in South Africa was 61. He’s scheduled to address the nation at 7:30 p.m. local time, a day after meeting business leaders and members of the National Command Council, which coordinates the response to the pandemic.
A South African Army Infantry Formation warning order seen by Bloomberg calls for the deployment of two sub-units of a battalion in Gauteng, the nation’s economic heartland. One sub-unit is to be posted to each of South Africa’s remaining eight provinces, according to the order dated March 22 and signed by Brigadier-General Bayanda Mkula.
“This conceptually entails supporting other government departments in terms of disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and crisis response,” it said. All leave has been canceled while the order is in force, which will be at least 21 days and as long as three months, it said.
The army will give assistance to the police and the forces are encouraged to execute tasks, such as searches and cordons, in concert.
Defense Ministry spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said he couldn’t immediately comment as he was in a meeting.
Signs limiting purchases sit inside a South African supermarket.Photographer: Mike Cohen/Bloomberg/Bloomberg
Statistical models presented to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases on Monday highlighted risks in some local communities and the need to test strategically, supporting the case for a 21-day shutdown in order to contain the spread of the virus, according to a person familiar with the presentation.
Under the lockdown, anyone found driving a vehicle on national roads would need to provide a permit that they are performing an essential service, the person said.
Any plans to implement regional shutdowns, such as those done in South Korea, would need to be accompanied by a properly resourced track-and-trace system, the person said.NICD communications manager Sinenhlanhla Jimoh declined to comment.
Presidency spokeswoman Khusela Diko couldn’t comment when contacted by phone and didn’t immediately respond to questions sent by text message.