South Africa has declared coronavirus a national disaster – giving the government these extraordinary powers

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a number of restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa and has tabled a gazette which classifies the pandemic as a national emergency under the Disaster Management Act.

The declaration will allow the government to introduce legislation that provides powers to deal with the pandemic without the traditional paperwork or bureaucracy.

This includes special rules around procurement, the evacuation of people, and the regulation of the movement of persons and goods.

It will also allow the government to make proclamations around the following issues:

  • The release of any available resources of the national government including stores, equipment, vehicles and facilities;
  • Limitations on the sale of alcohol;
  • Using government personnel for the rendering of emergency services;
  • The regulation of traffic to, from or within threatened areas;
  • The regulation of the movement of persons and goods to, from or within the disaster-stricken or threatened area;
  • Any other steps that may be necessary to prevent an escalation of the disaster.

This national emergency will be in force for a period of three months (15 June) unless it is cancelled or extended further.


In a speech on Sunday (15 March), the president said that South Africa has 61 confirmed cases of people infected with the virus, with this number expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

“This situation calls for an extraordinary response; there can be no half-measures,” said Ramaphosa, adding that a national state of disaster has been implemented in the country,” he said.

“We have decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy.”

Some of the measures announced by Ramaphosa include:

  • Travellers from medium-risk countries – such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore – will be required to undergo high intensity screening;
  • All travellers who have entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February will be required to present themselves for testing;
  • Surveillance, screening and testing measures at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International Airports will be strengthened;
  • South Africa has 72 ports of entry in the country which are land, sea and air ports. Of the 53 land ports, 35 will be shut down with effect from Monday 16 March. Two of the eight sea ports will be closed for passengers and crew changes;
  • Effective immediately, all non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of the Republic is prohibited. All non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus are discouraged;
  • Gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited;
  • Where small gatherings are unavoidable, organisers will need to put in place stringent measures of prevention and control;
  • Schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March, and will remain closed until after the Easter weekend. To compensate, the mid-year school holidays will be shortened by a week.

There have been 169,610 reported cases of the coronavirus worldwide as of 07h20 on Monday (16 March). Of these 84,294 are ‘closed cases’ with 77,776 reported recoveries and 6,518 reported deaths.

Read: Ramaphosa declares a national state of disaster over the coronavirus – here’s what you need to know

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South Africa has declared coronavirus a national disaster – giving the government these extraordinary powers