South Africa’s lockdown will be extended by an two extra weeks, president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.
In an address to the nation on Thursday night (9 April), Ramaphosa said while it is still too early to gauge the real effect of the lockdown on the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa, initial data shows that it is definitely having an impact.
Notably, the rate of daily infections has slowed from 42% per day, to 4%. However, he warned that the country was still in early days of the outbreak, and harder times were still to come.
“After careful consideration of the available evidence, the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to extend the nation-wide lockdown by a further two week beyond the initial 21 days,” the president said.
“This means that most of the existing measures will remain in force until the end of April.”
“If we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly, we risk an uncontrollable resurgence of the disease. We risk undoing the work done during the last few weeks,” he said.
“I have to ask you to bear these hard times for a little longer.”
The lockdown was initially expected to end on 16 April, but the end date has now been moved to the end of the month.
During this time, Ramaphosa said that testing and screening will be ramped up, and healthcare would take top priority. Most of the regulations and measures already in effect, will remain, he said.
Ramaphosa first declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster on 15 March, and announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown a few days later on 23 March.
While the lockdown was initially planned for 21 days, or three weeks, warnings have been coming in across different sectors that it would likely be extended.
Netcare – the country’s largest healthcare provider – previously warned that the lockdown could be extended to the end of May; while preliminary research by Boston Consulting Group pointed to various scenarios, some of which saw the lockdown extended for two to four months, depending on many variables.
Lockdowns have been extended in every country that implemented them, and have proven to be effective in stopping the spread of the virus.
However, South Africa is in a particularly volatile situation with the lockdown, as its economy – which recently lost its only remaining investment grade rating by Moody’s – can ill-afford a wide-reaching shutdown in production.
“I am keenly aware of the impact this will have on our economy,” the president said. “But I know, as you do, that unless we take these difficult measures now, unless we hold to this course for a little longer, the coronavirus pandemic will engulf, and ultimately consume, our country.
“We all want the economy to come back to life, we want people to return to work, we want our children to go back to school, and we all want to be able to move freely again,” Ramaphosa said.
While the banks, financiers and billionaires have put forward funding to assist struggling businesses and employees during this time, the longer the lockdown is in effect, the worse the situation becomes for workers.
According to the South African Reserve Bank’s estimates, over 370,000 people are expected to be jobless after three weeks – while economists are more bearish on the situation, pointing to 1 million jobs lost, or 1.6 million in an extended lockdown scenario.
Intellidex analyst, Peter Attard Montalto said that in a three-week lockdown, South Africa’s funding shortfall would be R119 billion. In a nine-week lockdown, this would escalate to around R350 billion.
Economic impact aside, Ramaphosa made it clear that the alternative would be worse for the country – having the virus rapidly spread among the population, crippling the healthcare system in the process, would be a catastrophe.
“Our decision to institute a nationwide lockdown was the correct one,” he said.
“We will use the coming days to evaluate how we will embark on risk-adjusted measures that can enable a phased recovery of the economy, allowing the return to operation of certain sectors under strictly controlled conditions.”