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While Tunisia and Rwanda also took similar measures, South Africa has begun a three-week lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which took effect at midnight on March 26.
Workers have been advised to work from home, except those who are involved in essential services such as healthcare, food, utilities and security.
South Africa has reported 927 reported cases with no fatalities as of March 27. The number of cases is expected to rise, however, despite the lockdown, but may slow down later during the lockdown period. “We must not be shocked when we see the increase,” said SA Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Anxiety has been running high since the first few cases were reported in the African nation, citing economic uncertainty and a lack of public healthcare infrastructure as major concerns. “Our people are terrified right now and we should not do anything to make their situation worse. Psychologically they are already scared that they could get the virus, lose income, lose jobs, get sick without medication,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on March 26.
Economic tough times
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are expected to suffer, although residents are still allowed to access essential items. SMEs across the country were reportedly already struggling to keep their businesses afloat amid challenges such as high taxes and low profit margins.
A series of measures to cushion the economic effects of the lockdown, including the establishment of a solidarity fund with US$116 million allocated to support local SMEs, are currently underway.
The country’s economy is already facing a recession, with 30% of its people being unemployment. Stimulus packages to ease the economic impact brought on by the coronavirus have not yet been announced by the government, although postponement in loan repayments, tax subsidies and other financial assistance measures are expected.
The only other sub-Saharan African country on lockdown, Rwanda, has announced measures to mitigate the economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic, which include the easing of loan payments and liquidity support.
Army and healthcare tested
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been deployed onto the streets to assist the police in a concerted effort to ensure the country’s almost 60 million citizens comply with the lockdown.
The country’s public and private healthcare sectors will face a shortage of resources and medical facilities, as thousands of South Africans are expected to possibly be infected with the virus within days.
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